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We decided to travel to Florida in the fall because, well, winter is coming and we wanted to soak in some of the last rays of sunshine available to us this year.

This, however, is what it looked like most of the time we were there:

Sorry if this picture dampens your mood (pun intended).

 

Even though it is called (calls itself? Does Florida talk much? I don’t know) the Sunshine State, Florida does have about 100 days of rain a year. However, since most people are smart enough not to visit during Wet/Hurricane Season (August – November), most people don’t experience a lot of rain during their visit.

 

We were there in September.

 

I’m not going to make excuses for the vacation choices we make. And I don’t want your pity.

I just want to share our way of coping with the weather situation in case somebody out there encounters circumstances requiring them to visit Florida in the fall. Also, some of these activities are just as enjoyable if you do them in the spring or summer!

 

So here are my suggestions, in no particular order:

 

10. Kennedy Space Center, Orlando

 

This is educational fun for the whole family during any season. It is one of the most informative, most entertaining museums you will find anywhere. And I wasn’t even that interested in space travel when my friends dragged me in there. By the end of our visit there I had tears in my eyes and a spring in my step (and no, I did not step on a rusty spare shuttle part or anything).

The grounds are well-kept, the food is nice (the lady in the cafeteria went out of her way to prepare a veggie burger for me), and there are interesting things to do for people of all ages and volubilities.

One of my favorites was the IMAX movie about the Hubble Space Telescope. “Perspective” is the message I took away from that.

The Shuttle Start Simulator is good fun, too. Friends of ours get motion sick and opted out of taking the ride right before the doors opened because the announcements and warning signs scared them. Don’t be afraid, just do it. It’s not all that scary, but very interesting.

I thought it was very admirable that the Space Center grounds double as a wildlife and nature reserve. Several of the astronauts speaking from various screens and information boards around the museum said that the importance of preserving our planet becomes more obvious once you take a look at this comparably tiny, defenseless orb from space. During wet season, your chances of seeing an alligator are better here than in the Everglades. They also have manatees and a plethora of birds and tortoises the bus drivers will point out to you as you cruise around the terrain.

 

9. Let’s Go to the Rodeo!

No, Florida is not the first state I think of when someone says “Rodeo”. But Florida is the first state in which we actually got to go to one. At the Bergeron Rodeo Grounds in Davie, to be exact. A bigger one would have taken place there the following weekend, but we’d already have left town by then, so we went to one of their so-called “Jackpot Rodeos”, a friendly neighborhood tournament.

I think we spent at least as much time people-watching as we did paying attention to the actual action in the pen. The rodeo-moms alone were hilarious and well worth the price of admission! I also enjoyed the barrel racing. The last rider was a small boy, maybe four or five years old, on a Shetland Pony. I think it took them about ten minutes to go around the three barrels. The cuteness!

The calf roping can be a little tough to watch if you’re not used to that kind of thing. I found myself cheering most for the calves that crossed the finish line without having been caught by either of the two cowboys in hot pursuit.

 

8. Amusement Parks, Orlando

No-brainer, right?

The weather never really gets too cold in Florida, even if there is the occasional rain shower. In Europe, when I visit an amusement park in September, I avoid the water rides like the plague because I’m afraid I will get a bladder infection from walking around with a wet bottom for a couple of hours. I guess I always miss out on part of the fun there. In this case (Islands of Adventure in Orlando in September), our rationale was that we would have all day to dry after doing all of the water rides right off the bat in the morning … we should probably pay someone to do the thinking for us from now on. We were soaked! “Soaked” as in people-stopped-and-stared-at-us-with-a-worried-and-slightly-terrified-expression-soaked! But by the end of the day we were dry again, and nobody got a bladder infection. Victory!

I will say, though, that you don’t exactly get your money’s worth at the Islands of Adventure. Admission was around 80$, and we were done by four p.m., even though we rode every single ride there was to ride, and the Spiderman and the Hulk twice, even. Granted, during high season, when you spend hours standing in line at each ride, you will need more time, and might not even get to ride everything at all, but still…

 

7. Shopping!

Most of the great shopping opportunities are indoors, you know.

Wal-Mart is good. Outlet centers are even better. I spent two or three hours in a Bed, Bath, and Beyond, and it is one of my fondest memories from this vacation.

 

6. Smallest Working Post Office in the United States, Ochopee

That’s all I’ve got.

 

5. Everglades

Any other time of year, the Everglades would be very high on any Florida visitor’s list of things to do. During wet season, however, they are relatively boring, at least gator-wise. You still see a lot of birds, and if that’s your thing, you’re golden. But also, you will be very proud of yourself every time you do actually spot an alligator, and that’s got to count for something, right?

 

Look what I found!

The muddy-green lizards aren’t gone during wet season, mind you, they’re just under water or hidden in the shade. So if you look and wait, you’re sure to encounter a couple of these scaly saurians after all.

The Everglades are also worth a visit if you’re looking to drench your car in mud for some reason or other (see 4.). This particular dirt road we chose had a number of handsome puddles and was overall nicely slippery and four-wheel-drive-worthy. We also caught up with a compact car towards the end of the road, however, so 4WD is totally optional.

Taking the odd dirt road will lead to a very satisfying amount of brownish-gray gloop all over your previously white car.

When you stop to check the “damage” (and take pictures of your feat), you will hear cute little plop-sounds now and again whenever the blobs of mud give in to gravity.

If your (rental) car has a step outside the door as a boarding aid, it is very likely that you won’t be able to use it for now. Makes for some fun new entrance techniques.

After this hunky-dory nature outing, you will drive your newly brownish-gray car back into the suburbs and leave it outside over night, hoping the inevitable nightly rain shower will wash it clean. Which it won’t. And then the real fun starts, when your conscience tells you to have it washed, even though it’s just a rental car and you were planning on exchanging it for a better one anyway. The Latinos at the car wash will point and laugh, and the manager will very politely and apologetically inform you that the car will have to be handwashed as a courtesy to all the customers coming in after you, who were hoping not to have their cars smeared and scratched with blobs of dirt still stuck in the brushes from your car.

The car will come back from its half-hour bath sparkling white and strangely smelling of coconut.

 

If you’re one of those early-bird types, you may opt to cycle to the Observation Tower in Shark Valley. You could also take the tram that drives along the same road, but cycling gives you greater freedom when you encounter all sorts of birds and the odd alligator at the side of the road. If you’re there later in the day and feeling like the sun is melting you right off of your bicycle seat, you might not want to stop in order to photograph the hungry, hungry vultures.

But it’s your choice, of course.

 

During dry season, the area around the Observation Tower is teeming with alligators. We saw exactly one – this one – when we were there.

 

Still, the tower offers great views of the Everglades, and it’s an interesting architectural structure.

 

In conclusion, the Everglades are still worth a visit during wet season.

 

Here’s another photo I took. Just because I like it. I’m not sure if it’s the right way up, sorry.

 

4. Exchange your car three times at the airport car rental

If you’re as lucky as we were, you may learn to hate this view more than any other during your vacation:

Remember to put yourself into the proper Holiday mood by placing your as-yet-unused sun hat on the dashboard at all times!

There is a variety of reasons for exchanging your rental car multiple times – other than trying to pass the time because it’s raining, like, all the time.

One might be that your suitcases don’t fit into the trunk because the rental car agency tried to take you for a ride (pun intended) once again by assigning you a car from a lower category than you had originally ordered. So you exchange it for a bigger car right away.

The second reason might be that the remote control key is missing and your car greets you with a resounding alarm noise every time you unlock the door manually. And it won’t stop cheering until you insert the key into the ignition. Also, the first time you touch the satnav device, it goes *klonk* and falls into the passenger seat because some of the mounting screws are missing. So, having your passenger hold the satnav in one hand, you drive back to the airport and exchange your car for another one that actually has all of the equipment.

The third reason might be that the board computer tells you the pressure is low in one of the tires, and when you pull up to a gas station to fill it with air you notice a screw stuck in the tire. So you drive back to the airport and exchange your car for another one that has four intact tires.

The fourth car you get might not be cleaned inside, and you might have an aversion against this particular type of car because it’s the same make as the one that used to honk at you whenever you tried to get in, and you might ponder getting rid of it and exchanging it for another one after you’ve covered it in mud to score off those suckers at the car rental… but you won’t have the heart to exchange it once it smells so nicely of coconut and glistens in the sun like a gay vampire (see 5.)! You’ll keep it after all and just bitch about it for the rest of your vacation.

 

3. Florida Keys & Key West

The Florida Keys are one of the definitive highlights of a trip to Florida!

There was no rain once we had set foot on the islands, but that doesn’t mean that the weather there is overall any more welcoming than it is in the other parts of Florida during wet season. We cut our stay in Key West short by one day because the suffocating heat had done us in completely. Doing anything outdoors was out of the question.

I accept that we are wimps in this regard, but any time we left our air-conditioned room at the fabulous Duval Gardens B&B, temperatures over 100°F and over 100% humidity knocked us down and any thought of activity went *pouf* in a damp cloud of withered aspirations.

We managed to take a two-hour stroll through town one day.

We visited the cemetery – I love cemeteries! And the one in Key West is especially fun. They have a leaflet that explains some of the more interesting grave sites. That way, you can discover a murder-suicide couple buried next to each other, or a famous midget’s regular-sized grave site.

Of course, there’s the Sunset Celebration held every day on Mallory Square at… yes, sunset.

Apart from some nice sunset photographs, the celebration will reward you with an atmosphere of pure delight in life and its pleasures. Mallory Square is also crowded with street artists who’ve really got it going on! Great fun!

 

On our way down to Key West, we stopped at Robbie’s Pier at Islamorada.

There are some booths selling hippie gear or boat stuff and a nice restaurant, but the main attraction are the tarpons waiting to be fed stinky small fishies from a bucket. You can buy about 20 fish in a bucket for two or three dollars (I can’t remember now) and make these handsome fellas’ day:

 

You will be asked not to feed the pelicans because they bite, but you will hardly be able to help it. Not just because they’re cute and your maternal/paternal instincts tell you to sustain them, but also because they’re very persistent. 😉 And they bite.

 

Another big plus for the Florida Keys are the iguanas. They are everywhere! You will have to watch out not to turn them into roadkill, because they scamper about by the side of the road all the way from Key Largo to Key West.

 

2. Dry Tortugas National Park & Fort Jefferson NHS

If you’re going to leave the house on the Florida Keys to do something outside, it had better be something to do with water. So we picked ourselves up and went on a very well organized boat ride out to the Dry Tortugas/Fort Jefferson.

The boat ride alone is worth the trip. We stood at the bow of the catamaran the whole time, watching the shoals of flying fish roused by our boat scatter and glide right above the surface of the sea for what seemed like miles.

Dry Tortugas NP is a tropical paradise! The palm trees and turquois sea make you want to stay there forever. Until you take a tour of Fort Jefferson with one of the guides and they explain to you that life there really was no party at the time of its military use in the 1800s.

For example, the sophisticated system of cisterns designed to supply the inhabitants of the fort with fresh water, ingenious as it was, fell victim to the unstable ground of the island. The cistern buildings were too heavy and sunk into the ground. This caused cracks to form through which sea water entered the cisterns and contaminated the fresh water.

Also, the sewer system, cleverly designed based on the coming and going of the tides, seemed like a good idea at the time. But the engineers who thought it up were from a completely different region with completely different tides. I won’t go into the details, but let’s just say that the waste was not transported off to sea the way it was supposed to.

Even though the fort was never under siege, it had a number of state-of-the-art features to make it impervious to enemy forces. For example, a very resourceful inventor designed a system of metal shutters to cover the embrasures in front of the huge cannons. They were designed to be opened by the muzzle flash and close again once the cannon ball had passed through. The system worked well for the couple of times the cannons were fired (for training purposes only). But the salty sea air caused the metal shutters to corrode and swell up. Eventually, the swollen metal pushed the bricks out from around the shutters, and they simply fell out, leaving the embrasures with a very unmilitary ragged edge and shutter-less.

After a nice lunch on the boat (the boat fare for the Dry Tortugas ferry, the Yankee Freedom, includes the trip, breakfast, lunch, and the guided tour of the fort), we donned our snorkeling gear and went fishies-watching among the remains of coal pits around the island. There’s also shipwrecks and a coral reef not far from the island, but we didn’t make it out there. Too strenuous for the weather, you know.

 

1. Hang out with friends

Any vacation spent with the right people is a good vacation, right?

Even in Florida if it’s raining, like, all the time.

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