After being at the Disney parks for a couple of days it was time to head to St. Petersburg where the New York life meeting was going to be held and where Jeff was going to be doing his speaking.
We drove in on a cold windy night.
Here is what our hotel looked like during the day (notice the yoga class on the sand)
The next morning everyone but me slept in. After a few sleep deprived days I figured everyone needed it. I ended up finishing a book before they woke up so I was OK. It was still cold and windy outside so the beach and the pool was not interesting at all. Fine by me that meant we could do some sight seeing. We were too far to drive all the way to the Everglades where I would've like to take the kids but we found a local alligator attraction in Madeira Beach where the kids could see alligators up close and hold them.
At the "Alligator Attraction" they had a bunch of baby alligators that you could feed. We held cut up pieces of hot dog on a fishing pole looking thing and then tried to tease them with it to get them to jump. We found out quick that they can jump pretty high and fast and our hot dog pieces didn't last too long.
Here are the kids holding the alligator....he was a little heavy for Ashley...she didn't last too long ha ha.
Taylor....then Taylor started it. He got the idea to pretend like he was kissing the alligator. Well the worker stepped in and said "Why don't you really kiss him?"
So they did.
They were looking for some hand sanitizer for their lips after that up close alligator experience :)
After the alligators we enjoyed walking along the boardwalk next to the water. We checked out some of the shops and bought some homemade taffy from a local family that had a store.
For lunch we decided to get a couple of appetizers at Bubba Gumps's.
(The boys teased me that Jeff had picked the Hooters next door and almost got me to walk in there instead)
While we were waiting for our food we were checking out the dolphins that regularly swim through the channel there. All you had to do was watch and within a few minutes you would see one.
We were excited at first and Jeff pointed one out to an older man who was walking by at the time. The guy said "Eeeehhhh" like he could care less and walked by. Obviously he was a local.
Watching the dolphins was fun. Waiting 45 minutes for our food to come out and then having it all be stone cold was not. Normally I don't complain but when Taylor and I were trying to eat our bowls of cold clam chowder and Jeff is trying to eat cold fried shrimp and french fries I figured it was worth mentioning.
It actually took them another 20 minutes to bring the food out again.
They comped some of it and offered us a dessert. We skipped the dessert because by that time we were done sitting there and who knows how long it would've taken to get us the free dessert!
After Madeira beach we decided to check out the St. Petersburg pier and downtown area. When we got to the pier we were checking out this pelican that didn't seem to be shy at all.
He let everyone get really close to him for a picture. But then behind Taylor's back he started to reach towards him....Taylor thought he might try and grab his beanie..
He didn't so Taylor tried petting him. He actually touched him but then the bird looked like he was going to try and bit him.
I guess we got a little too much in his personal space. So we left him alone, ha ha.
They had this cool building at the end of the pier. It looked like a mini-mall inside and had an aquarium on the top floor that we went to. For some reason Jeff said they were going to tear down the whole pier in 6 months and rebuild it but it looked good to me. Seemed like a shame.
Out back they were doing some kind of cross-fit competition. I have heard about cross-fit but I've never seen it. Now that I've seen it all I can say is Ouch! It looks like muscle pulls and injuries just waiting to happen if you ask me! Good for those guys that can do it I guess.
(There were lots of buff guys and girls walking around that day)
After the pier we went back to our hotel room and decided what we were going to do for dinner. Again the kids didn't want to go out. Fine. We ordered them room service and let them lie around and watch TV and Jeff and I went out to eat and the restaurant in the hotel. It was lovely.
The next day was our last day to do anything far since we were going home the day after so we found an airboat tour that was not too far of a drive from the hotel.
Jeff was happy that the drive would take us over this bridge that he was dying to go over.
You can't see it very well from here but it rises up really far in the middle to allow ships to go under. It costs 1.25 one way to go over the bridge and it was actually a little freaky as you are approaching it.
It felt like we were going straight up while we were driving on it but the view was amazing and we made it just fine even though they were doing construction and the lanes weren't all straight!
(I wouldn't have wanted to drive on it at night when it was windy)
When we got to the airboat tour we bought our tickets but had an hour and a 1/2 to wait. The boys hopped over a guardrail and sat on a bench. About a minute later a man said "Hey do you know why that guardrail is there?" The kids said no and he motioned them to come back over the guardrail and stand on the deck next to him. Sure enough we make our way to where he is and we all look down and see a huge alligator hidden in the grass.
You could only see him by standing on the deck.
The kids were taken aback. They hadn't seen him from where they were sitting but they realized how close they had been to the gator and how easy it would be to stumble across him if they had gone any closer to the water! I think it surprised them.
Welcome to Florida kids!
Since we had some time we drove back up the road and did a little hiking. The first spot had a trail with a wood bridge and overlook at the end. Instead of going on the trail we just went to the overlook (my family isn't big distance hikers hee hee)
There were stairs to get up to the bridge...
then you crossed over the bridge to the other side. There could only be 4 people on the bridge at a time. With all the swaying as you walked over it I thought that was a good idea!
The tower was pretty high and there were a lot of stairs...
But the view was worth it!
It was high enough over the trees that you could see for miles around!
Now we have to come down all those stairs.
Waiting for Dad.
We did a little more hiking on a trail that took us near the water. I have to say with that near alligator encounter before the boys were a little cautious realizing an alligator could be anywhere.
From the bridge we had a really good view of a couple of big ones.
There were a lot of us checking them out. Here is an amish family that was there at the same time as us. They whole family was in full amish garb, head coverings and all except their teenage boy. He was wearing basketball shorts and a tank top.
Ashley caught me looking at them and hissed "Stop staring mom!" I didn't think I was but I think she knows how it feels to be looked at so I tried to not look like I was paying attention at all.
Walking back to the car...Ashley already tuckered out so good big brother Taylor is carrying her.
It was finally time for our airboat tour. It was a slow moving one and didn't promise as exciting of a time as some of the other airboat companies but it was closer to our hotel at 12 a person rather than 40 so we were happy with it.
Our guide spent the next hour telling us all about the habitat, gators and birds and all sorts of things, answering whatever questions people had.
We saw a few gators along the banks but we didn't see as many as they normally do because it was a colder day. I found out that 75% of gators are female. All the eggs laid can be either gender and depending on the temperature that they are incubated depends on the gender. The way the mom sets up the nest only 1/4 of the eggs are warm enough to become male so statistically there are always 75% more females than males.
We saw a lot of different kinds of birds including the anhinga birds and had fun watching some osprey circle around hoping we would watch them catch some fish. Eventually our guide saw one flying with a fish in it's talons. He said that even if they catch the fish backwards they will turn it around in flight because carrying it frontwards is more aerodynamic.
I also found out the only the females gators are the ones that roam. The males have their territory and stay there. So those stray alligators found in pools and other places are always females. Crazy
When we got done with the tour the kids were ready for the pool. It still wasn't hot but it was warmer that the few days before. So we got suits on and left Jeff in the room to work on his talk and went out in the 65 degree weather to swim. (Luckily the pool is heated)
I was happy to see that the family that had invited Jeff to speak had gotten into town with their kids. We met John Durago and his family at the last New York Life convention and he ended up being in charge of planning the meeting in Florida. He was excited to have Jeff come and speak at his meeting and we were happy that we were able to come out and hang out with his family again even though it was brief.
It didn't take but a few minutes for our kids to start playing football and horsing around in the pool together.
That night we snuck down with the kids and the Durago's brought their kids for the New York Life reception. There weren't really other families there so we got a table off to the sides and got to hang out and let the kids be silly. While the adults talked the kids ended up playing hide and seek and going out to put their feet in the sand (which they said was cold) then we all went to ice cream.
You can "see" how much the boys are enjoying their ice-cream
This is John and his daughter Katie. You can tell while the boys were all too happy to hang out with them :)
After ice cream they let us come and check out their suite. Since he had bought so many rooms for the conference for New York Life they gave him a penthouse room for the same price as the others. It was 2 stories with 3 bedrooms, a kitchen and a sweet balcony. It was probably close to the size of our house!
The next morning we got up and ate breakfast and went out as early as we could to enjoy the pools since we were checking out of the hotel that morning and flying home later that day.
Again the kids played in the pool but I wanted to go and at least stick my feet in the Gulf of Mexico....so went by myself. It was cold, almost as cold as the ocean here! But, they had some awesome shells all over the beach. I brought a giant muscle shell back to show Ashley and that piqued her curiosity so her and Annie and her mom went with me back down to the beach.
Ashley found a giant muscle shell of her own!
The girls also found a lot of sponges on the beach! I have NEVER found a sponge on the beach before.
Ashley found a really cool, big one that she could barely lift that she wanted to bring back home with us. I told her it was too big. She still wanted it so she broke off a piece of it and brought it back up to the pool. She tried rinsing it off in the pool and ended up dislodging a crab that ended up on the pool steps.
(We had to get that out before any guests got mad!)
The sponge ended up stinking so bad I made her take it out of the luggage! Sorry Ashley. I did let her bring home a small, dry, non stinky piece of sponge home.
I loved that the sand dunes looked like how they do in paintings with the grass growing on them. Our beaches here don't look like this so when I was little I used to see paintings with grass in the sand dunes I thought to myself "beaches don't look like that". Well they do look like that, I just hadn't been to the right beach. I loved the fact that there was a crab trap washed up on the shore too right next to the hotel.
Taylor ended up coming out to the beach with us again right before we left. He didn't just put his toes in, he jumped all the way in! Probably just to say that he swam in the Gulf of Mexico. He said it was freezing and as soon as he jumped his body was saying "Get Out!"
We came in from the beach as Jeff was speaking. We frantically showered and got ready to check out of the hotel room. He finished, said his goodbyes and before lunch started we were driving back to Orlando to get to the airport to catch our flight home.
All in all it was a great trip and a perfect opportunity for sibling bonding. (We're in the "parents aren't very cool" phase) They even sat together on the plane rides and I didn't have to help anyone do a thing both ways! They are growing up fast!