Jul 31, 2011

Florida Family Vacation at the Beach

It doesn't get any better than this.  Anna Maria Island, Florida. July 21, 2011

I confess I've had very low expectations for the beach in America.  I pictured the endless rows of high rises running along the Atlantic coast, people driving up and down the gray sands of Daytona and New Symrna Beach, the water nondescript in appearance and always too cold.  I associated the east coast Florida beaches of my youth with the inchoate melancholy of that period--trips to the shore that were never as fun as I pretended with people that often weren't such great friends as I wished.

I'd spent much less time on the Gulf coast.  We stopped by the beach a few times during high school trips to Tampa.  J, Chris, Greg, and I were impressed with the Emerald Coast up on Florida's Panhandle during a road trip in my college years.  When Babs and I were newly dating we spent a day with the Chris and Carissa Cotta at a beach in Clearwater.  Those experiences were all quite nice, but compared to the fresher memories of the Marianas, I was sure they didn't measure up.

It was my son who corrected me, as we drove over the low bridge on to Anna Maria Island on Thursday, July 21, 2011:

"Daddy, this looks like Saipan!" he cried.

The view from our balcony at Anna Maria Island Inn

And indeed it did.  For just about 24 marvelous hours our family soaked up the beach life at Anna Maria Island on Florida's Gulf Coast.  Annual summer sojourns to Anna Maria were one of the family traditions Babs and I had missed out on while overseas.  We returned to the States just as the tradition was falling into disrepair.  Mom and Dawn had been determined to revive the Anna Maria beach week this summer, but they started planning too late and all the places that met their highly specific criteria were either already booked or out of their price range.  By the time we arrived, the beach week plan had been reduced to a day trip.  Indeed we didn't decide to spend the night until Wednesday, the day before we left, when Jim pointed out that a five hour round trip drive just to spend a few hours at the beach wouldn't be as much fun.  Why not just find a cheap place--forget all the criteria--and spend one night, and then come back the next day.  Mom, Dawn, and I got on the web and started looking.

Looking out from the front entrance to our unit.  One of the great things about Anna Maria Island is the laid-back island feel.  It's all two lane roads, locally-owned shops catering to vacationers, low-slung beach bungalows, vacation rentals, and unassuming luxury condos (my understanding is that they don't allow any high-rises on the island).

What we found was far more than we expected on such notice.  We found a wonderful little beachside place with lots of character and a reasonable price.  Anna Maria Island Inn had exactly two nights open, and both were on the days we could make the trip.  What a blessing!
Looking back at the Anna Maria Island Inn from the water. Our unit is on the left on the seconf floor.

It was the perfect day at the beach.  The pace was languid, the mood relaxed.  I completely enjoyed playing in the ocean with my son, sharing in his wonder at the waves, his fascination with the sand, and his curiosity about the "blue sea" as he described it--the areas too deep even for me to wade with him in my arms.  "Let's go to the blue sea!" he'd ask, pointing to the darker depths.  After a couple of hours on the beach we were ready for a tasty lunch of sub sandwhiches and nice afternoon nap.

Mom, Dawn and "Baby J" frolic in the waves.  See more photos of the kids at the beach at Elijah's blog.

While the Feller slept, I indulged in nice lazy afternoon like I hadn't had all summer--reading for a couple of hours out on the balcony-- migrating inside to the comfy living room couch when it got too hot.

The kitchen and dining area of our two bedroom apartment at the Anna Maria Island Inn.  We found the Inn clean, comfortable, and quite attractive with modern and tasteful decor.  It might have felt a bit cramped for a week-long stay for the seven of us (five adults and two toddlers), but for one night it was more than sufficient.

In the late afternoon, we hit the surf again, this time joined by Uncle Robert and my cousin, who I will call "T", and Jim and my nephew.  It was a great father-son time, building rudimentary sandcastles, discovering the sealife-starfish, shells, and sand fleas--and playing with the floaties in the shallows.  Again there was no rush--we played as long as we liked--and finally left the water when the sun was dipping towards the horizon.

Jim shows the kids a starfish he found in the shallows

Heading out towards the blue sea

As the sun set the Thomson, Maycock, and Brothers families gathered around a delicious haystack supper, feasting on the food and the fellowship.

Sunset on the Gulf

Dawn clowns around

Uncle Robert, Jim, and me dig in.

Cousin "T" and Mom enjoying dinner on the balcony

We all slept well that night and awoke early for one more visit to the beach, before packing up and heading back to Orlando.

Walking on the beach, Friday morning, July 22, 2011

We weren't ready to leave at all, and we knew that we were committed to a proper beach week at Anna Maria next summer.  The family tradition is being revived and this time we'll get to be a part of it. Mom and Dawn have already begun researching vacation rentals that will accomodate us all comfortably next summer, and we'll get our reservation in early.  What a surprise, I experienced the perfect beach vacation not in the tropical island paradises of Saipan or Hawaii, but right here in America on Anna Maria Island, Florida. 


Anonymous said...

Best time ever!

Aunty Dawn

Mai said...

I keep hearing about Anna Maria Island, first from the Piersons and now from you - it looks like I'll have to make a visit of my own sometime! So beautiful, and if YOU say it's a lot like Saipan, then I know it's gotta be great!

Ken & Crystal Pierson said...

wow! looks like you did find a great place at Anna Maria!!! Wonderful! You have certainly been a busy traveler lately! And the little feller is getting SO BIG!!!! wow!

Clara said...

Family vacations at the beach are the best, especially when they take place in Florida! I had one with my own family (whole family!) in Florida this past August and had a wonderful time hiking, shopping, and of course, soaking up the sun! Palm Bay was home base at the Palm Bay Hotel (www.palmbay-hotel.com) it was just too cheap to pass up but we traveled all over the place and explored the greatness that is FLorida!