Monday, June 28, 2021

Three fun adventures on the Florida Peninsula

Mention that you’re going to Florida, and folks think you’re headed to the beach. That may well be, but we also found other attractions on our recent trip to Fort Lauderdale in the Sunshine State.

Flamingo Gardens

Flamingos and many other birds have found sanctuary
at Florida's Flamingo Gardens

If you’re looking to visit a tropical paradise, this botanical garden and wildlife sanctuary is a great place to go. The Wray Botanical Collection features over 3000 species of rare and exotic plants. It includes Florida’s largest collection of “Champion” trees, including the largest tree in Florida. Specialty gardens feature plants that attract butterflies and hummingbirds, as well as multi-colored croton and bromeliad specimens. Two hundred year old live oaks and dozens of orchid species add to the serenity and beauty of this place.

What a beautiful peacock!

The Wildlife Sanctuary is home to more than 90 species of native birds and animals, most of which have been injured or are non-releasable for different reasons. Spend time watching the antics of more than 250 wading birds in the free-flight aviary. See birds of prey, peacocks (including a white peacock), eagles, flamingoes, and much more. Don’t be surprised by alligators, turtles, otters—even a tiger and panther.

Orchids and many other flower species
decorate the grounds of Flamingo Gardens

There’s so much to see that we spent an enjoyable morning traversing the well-groomed, beautiful grounds before stopping to rest with an ice cream. A narrated tram tour is available through the rainforest, wetlands, and jungle growth if you prefer to ride than walk.

Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park

This park on the Keys offers an opportunity for geologists and visitors to compare living corals of today with fossilized coral from 125,000 years ago. Visitors can see cross sections of ancient coral reef as they walk within the eight-foot-high quarry walls. Cuts reveal the thin layer of soil that supports plant life in this subtropical environment.

Windley Key is an excellent place for budding 
geologists to learn more about coral reefs.

The fossilized coral, also called Key Largo limestone or Key stone, was an important part of Florida’s 20th century history. After the land was sold to the Florida East Coast Railroad, the quarry was used until the 1960s to produce exquisite pieces of this decorative stone.

Imprints of ancient coral can be seen in these walls.

As we walked along trails, we observed more than 40 species of hardwood trees and plants native to the Florida Keys. 

Larry on a trail in Windley Key
State Park

Interpretive markers share information about natural resources of the park. An education center is open Thursday through Monday with exhibits about the Flagler Railroad, which was completed in 1912, and the geology of the Florida Keys. 

Hugh Taylor Birch State Park

Locals and visitors enjoy this lovely state park, which was
just a few minutes walk from our resort.

Because this urban park was just minutes from our Fort Lauderdale resort, we went there two times. Just a few steps from the beach, it features a two-mile paved loop, great for walkers and bike riders, that follows the Intracoastal Waterway before circling around near Long Lake. 

In addition there are two and a half miles of unpaved trails wandering through forest areas to different picnic spots or sports fields. The park is well-used by locals as well as visitors.

It's hard to imagine a tree as large and wide as this banyan.

We loved meandering around the huge banyan tree, meditation garden, and hammock trail for a chance to escape the city vibe and feel like we were out in the country. If you’re lucky you might see tortoises, lizards, and raccoons. 

Our kayak excursion in the park

Perhaps the most fun was renting a kayak and paddling down the fresh water lake on our last morning in Fort Lauderdale. We stopped in for liquid refreshments and live music at the outdoor restaurant before scoping out the beach scene one last time.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Tour an underwater national park by boat

People visit most national parks to see and enjoy the beauty of the land, whether majestic mountains, huge expanses of sand, or emerald forests dominate the landscape. But the most interesting parts of Biscayne National Park in Florida are underwater.

Sea life is the main attraction at Biscayne National Park.

On a March visit to Fort Lauderdale, Larry and I decided to take a day trip to this unusual park. Since it was early spring, we realized our visit would primarily involve exploration from a boat, as the bits of low-lying land included in the park seemed remote and insignificant. Indeed, after driving almost an hour and a half to get there, we felt eons away from civilization.

There’s beauty to be appreciated in the clear blue water, mangrove shoreline, and dark green woodlands that surround the 173,000 acres of designated park space. It’s a subtropical place where small islands (keys) harbor living coral reefs, a pristine wilderness along the southeast edge of the Florida peninsula.

Walk the pier at the Visitor Center for an introduction to open water. 

Home to one of the largest barrier reef ecosystems in the world, Biscayne National Park is more than 95 percent water. Established in 1968 to protect a rare combination of terrestrial and undersea life, the park also lends itself to recreation with great opportunities for snorkeling, boating, and fishing.

Sea birds are a common sight on
the jetty trail.
The day we visited happened to be quite cool and very windy. After arriving at the Visitor Center, we watched a film explaining how all the plant and animal life in Biscayne Bay, the Keys, and the mangroves are interwoven with each other and with humans.

Since our Heritage of Biscayne boat tour wasn’t scheduled until early afternoon, we walked along the jetty trail to get a sense of the landscape. The land is filled with a collection of trees, ferns, vines, flowers, and shrubs that thrive in the warm, wet climate.

On the boat tour we learned history of this ocean region.

We joined five other people on a wet and wild ride across the bay, with a couple of stops to explain some of the history of this region. We heard about Adams Key, the Sterling homestead, and brothers Arthur and Lancelot Jones, who learned that being a fishing guide was more profitable than farming. Many legends abound of pirates, buried treasure, shipwrecks, and treacherous reefs.

The longest stop on our three and a half hour boat ride was at Boca Chita, a former party island for wealthy visitors. In fact, a fake lighthouse was built on the island to help direct partiers to the right spot. Today, luxury boats can dock for a nightly fee, or people can go this peaceful place to camp and picnic.

Boca Chita is still a favorite day trip or overnight camping spot.

At the center of Biscayne’s underwater world are the coral reefs that built the Florida Keys. The 150-miles-long chain of coral reefs has created a tropical paradise. If you have time to explore onshore, you can see fossil coral rock on the islands of Biscayne. By having national park status, the crystal waters are now protected from pollutants and construction runoff that threatened the land in the early 1900s.

Palm trees swaying in the breeze remind you of a tropical paradise.

Popular with snorkelers and scuba divers, the shallow water reefs are filled with light and life. Brilliantly colored tropical fish and other sea creatures attract people fascinated by the multitude of sea inhabitants. 

It’s a different kind of national park, an undersea world that we would like to explore another time. Maybe someday we’ll get back for a summer visit and the opportunity to be dazzled by the wild spectrum of colorful sea life in Biscayne National Park.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier



Sunday, June 13, 2021

Summer at Moody Gardens in Galveston, Texas

Memorial Day Weekend kicked off the summer vacation season, and Moody Gardens in Galveston is gearing up to provide some unforgettable experiences for a daytrip or extended getaway at one of the most popular tourist destinations in Texas.

Crystal Rain Forest Pyramid

Guests can explore the Rainforests of Asia, Africa and the Americas inside the Rainforest Pyramid, or visit the Aquarium Pyramid, where they travel from the Caribbean to the South and North Pacific. The Aquarium features seals, penguins and thousands of fish from oceans of the world and more.

See exotic birds.

As vaccinations rise, so do vacation plans, and Moody Gardens has unique, fun-filled attractions for all ages. In compliance with the Governor Abbott’s Executive Order, Moody Gardens strongly encourages guests to wear face masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to continue social distancing when possible. All employees will continue to wear face masks for the protection of staff and guests.

Inside the MG 3D Theater, individuals will have the opportunity to discover the majesty and magnificence of the largest animal ever to walk the earth with the new film, TITANOSAUR 3D. This film journeys to the southern hemisphere during the Late Cretaceous period to explore the life history and environment of these long-necked sauropods – from egg to towering titan. Guests can also experience Sharks 4D and Aquaman 4D inside the 4D Special FX Theater or go on a deep sea adventure with Deep the Pufferfish inside the Audience Recognition Theater that features 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Interactive Adventure.

Watch fish swim at the aquarium.
This summer guests can squish their toes in white sand, recline beneath palm trees, and splash among a variety of beach attractions including a 650-foot lazy river, wave pool and two 18-foot tower slides at Palm Beach. 

Other attractions at this venue include the Aquarium Adventure play area and Splashpad, an automated aquatic water feature with interactive dump buckets, spray arches and more. Visitors also have the option to rent Canopy Loungers and Beach Cabanas for provided comfort and additional seating. Palm Beach will be open starting May 29 and will have a select schedule listed on the website.

Crystal Lagoon is a good place to cool off.

Don’t miss Dinner Cruises aboard the Colonel Paddlewheel Boat. Enjoy beautiful views of Offats Bayou plus a dinner buffet and cash bar with special themed dinner menus. Instead of one Dinner Cruise every month there will be one every other Saturday.

If you’re looking for summer savings, take advantage of the One Day Value Pass that includes admission to the Aquarium and Rainforest Pyramids, Discovery Museum, Colonel Paddlewheel Boat, one show in each theater (MG3D, 4D Special FX, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Audience Recognition Theater).

Moody Gardens Hotel and Spa

The spectacular Moody Gardens Hotel is adjacent to the attractions. Ask about special package deals. Guests receive discounted attractions admissions, so consider turning a day trip into an entire week of fun spent checking out the attractions, lounging by the hotel pool, relaxing at the spa or playing a few rounds of golf. Guests also have the option to apply their admission purchase towards an Annual Membership, which will pay for itself in only two visits and includes a ton of membership benefits.
Play golf, too.

Moody Gardens has a first-class public golf course with rich landscaping and gorgeous Galveston Bay views. It is a top-ranked public course in Texas and was recently rated number 6 in the Lone Star State, according to Golf Advisor.

For more information visit

Photos from Burmeiers and free sources.

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Galveston leads nation in resuming cruise sailings

The Port of Galveston, fourth most popular homeport in North America, is scheduled to be the first U.S. port to welcome cruise passengers with a Carnival Cruise sailing planned for July 3. The cruise line announced that it plans to begin sailings in July aboard Carnival Breeze and Carnival Vista. Both ships are currently in Galveston.

Carnival Breeze sails from Galveston in July.

“We’re proud that Carnival chose Galveston to be the first port to resume sailing in the U.S.,” said Rodger Rees, Galveston Wharves port director and CEO. “This will have a huge impact on our regional and state economy.”

Port officials have been continuously working with cruise industry partners, as well as federal, state and local regulatory and public health authorities to develop a plan to resume safe, sustainable sailing. The port voluntarily invested $100,000 in health and safety upgrades in its two cruise terminals as well as other improvements.

Norwegian Prima to sail from Galveston

Norwegian Prima sails from Galveston on October 31, 2021.

Norwegian Cruise Line recently announced that it is sailing its newest class of ship from Galveston in October 2022. Norwegian Prima is the cruise line’s first new class of ships in nearly 10 years and the first NCL ship to set sail from Galveston. On October 31, the 140,000-ton, 3,215-passenger Prima will begin her Caribbean season departing from Galveston, Texas to Miami on a 12-day itinerary.

Since Galveston is a major drive-to market with 30 million people living within a 300-mile radius, the debut will introduce the new class of ship to other major markets.

Royal Caribbean adds cruise terminal

Royal Caribbean International will soon begin construction of a third cruise terminal at Galveston port’s Pier 10. The $110 million terminal will be home to RCI’s largest and most spectacular Oasis Class ship, Allure of the Seas, beginning in late 2022.

New terminal will be home to RCI's largest
class of ships such as Allure of the Seas.

The terminal will feature state-of-the-art technology, including mobile check-in and will be designed and developed sustainably to meet LEED certification standards. One of the largest cruise ships in the world, Oasis will carry 6,000 passengers and 3,000 crewmembers.

About Galveston Wharves

Located at the entrance to Galveston Bay and the Houston Ship Channel, Galveston Wharves has been a thriving maritime commercial center since 1825. Just 45-minutes from open seas, the port has infrastructure and assets to serve growing cruise, cargo, and commercial businesses. More than one million cruise passengers sailed from Galveston in 2019.

Information courtesy of Cristina Galego, PR manager for Port of Galveston