Saturday, May 23, 2015

St. pete vacation

We have returned from a very restful week's vacation in St. Pete Beach, Florida. We stayed at the lovely Grand Plaza Hotel, and basically didn't leave the entire time we were there from Monday - Friday (twice we trekked across the street to the store). It was a very nice week in which we accomplished exactly what we set out to do: we sat on the beach every day, swam in the ocean, lazed around the hotel, and we each read a book. Here is the lowdown...

We traveled by plane on the nickel-and-dime Allegiant Air. I say "nickel-and-dime" because, while the flights seem inexpensive, they add on charges for just about everything you can imagine. Still, it's hard to complain about a direct flight from Fort Wayne to St. Pete. All in all it wasn't bad. The flights were good, we had seats next to each other there and back (we had to pay extra for that) and both airports were small and relatively easy to get through. It takes right at 2 hours to get there. The St. Pete airport has some serious issues though. You have to wait forever for your luggage, and don't even get me started on getting from the arrival area to the luggage area. They have these stupid door/tubes that only allow a few people to exit at a time. It was insane. Still, the flights were good, the weather was nice, and it was way better than driving as far as I'm concerned.

When we arrived in St. Pete we used a car service the hotel recommended. "Sam" picked us up at the airport in a nice Lincoln Towne car. He was nice, and it was a good ride, but I thought $60 (plus $10 more for a tip) was a little pricey. When we returned to the airport on Friday we just used the BAT Taxi service that is across the street from the hotel. It was a flat $39 to the airport, and I gave the guy $50 because it was a good ride and he was a super nice guy.

We left home Monday afternoon and arrived in St. Pete around 7:30-8 pm. On the way home, we left the hotel when we had to check out at 11 am. We had lunch at the airport, and our flight left at 2:15 pm. We arrived in Ft. Wayne at 4:15, got our luggage, our car (we parked the Buick at the airport - $36), and were home by 5 pm. Travel was great!

Street view of the Grand Plaza
The Grand Plaza is far from the nicest hotel in the area, but it had everything we needed, and then some. It is a 20-25 minute drive from the airport, and sits right on the lovely St. Pete beach on the Gulf of Mexico. It has three restaurants, a pool, and our room was very nice. We were actually in a 2-room suite. It had a kitchen/living room area in one room, and the bedroom had 1 king bed and 1 full bed. Both rooms had a balcony with chairs. Again, not the fanciest of rooms, but I have no complaints.

One of the restaurants is on the top of the 12-story hotel. We took the glass elevator up one night, but did not eat there. We did eat 3 meals a day at the other 2 restaurants though. We had the breakfast buffet every morning at the Palm Room - opting to sit outdoors ocean-side and sip our coffee and chow our bacon and eggs. What a great way to start the day. For lunch and dinner we ate every meal at Bongo's Beach Bar & Grille. The food and drinks were good, and it is rated one of the best beach bar & grille's on the Gulf. They have live music every afternoon and night, and give free shooters when the sun sets every night. We probably spent more money there than we should have, but we only ate the 3 meals each day (no snacks all week), and it's hard to beat sitting outside right on the beach and enjoying an ocean view while dining. No complaints about the food.

Sunset view from Bongo's.

Another nice thing about this hotel is that it likely has fewer rooms than many of the nicer ones, therefore we never had to wait very long for the elevator. We've had that problem at other places we've stayed. There were two elevators, and since we were only on the 3rd floor, we often took the stairs too.

View from our room.

Sunset on the beach
The beach was absolutely the BEST we've probably ever been to. It was wide and has a beautiful white sand. It doesn't burn your feet, nor stick to you either. We rented a cabana every day, and they were pretty cheap at $25 for a full day. We usually hit the beach around 10 am and stayed there until 4 or 5 in the afternoon. The Gulf water is a turquoise-ish green and was really calm compared to many places we've been. Jane spent more time in the water than I did - I mostly tried to hide from the sun as much as I could, but did manage to burn the top of my feet slightly. The sand was very nice even in the water. The floor of the ocean was as calm as the waves. There were no rocks, and very little seaweed. The best beach we've ever visited.

A bonus was the chance to see some wildlife. I could do without the birds that are all over - especially the time we saw 2 of them "going at it" (having sex) right in front of us.

I didn't care much for the stingray either. When we checked in they taught us how to do the "stingray shuffle," because they like to hang out in shallow water this time of year. Supposedly they will only sting you if you step on them, so you're supposed to shuffle your feet when walking in the water. I guess that signals them to move or something. However, one day when I was heading back to shore I had several of them swimming in circles around me! I did not like that.

The "bonus" animal, though, were the dolphins! We had no idea we would be treated to a dolphin show several times a day, every day! They would swim and jump not far from shore every morning and afternoon. One time when Jane was in the water by herself they swam not too far from her. That was pretty cool.

As far as reading... I completed Christopher McDougall's 352-page Natural Born Heroes, and Jane finished Rachel Held Evans's Searching For Sunday. I really liked my book. While it was largely about ultra-distance running and various other health/fitness ideas, I also learned more about WW II and Greek Mythology than I've probably ever known before. It was both interesting and inspiring to me. I will likely have more blog posts about it in the future.

Jane really enjoyed Rachel's book. It's not at all anti-church, but very much one person's desire to find 'the church' with some form of depth beyond "chubby bunny" games and rah-rah events. Though it is probably written for a younger crowd (more our kids' ages), Jane said it fit pretty well with our story too. I will likely take a gander at it eventually.

So, now the trip is over and it's back to real life. After getting in last night, Jane had to get up early this morning and leave for Illinois with Carrie and the kids. They are helping throw my nephew's fiance a wedding shower, so poor Jane doesn't get much rest. I have been left here to journal our latest adventure on the blog, and purchase a gas grill before Monday.

All in all, a very nice, relaxing, and somewhat inspiring vacation. While it seemed to go by too quick, and I spent a lot of it wishing I were back home, it was time and money well spent in my humble opinion. I feel pretty blessed to have these adventures, and someone to experience them with.

The night sky was phenomenal.