The Florida Aquarium - Tampa, FL

Labor day weekend was a wash out here in Kissimmee. I attempted shopping some sales out the outlets, but not only was it extremely busy, but also extremely wet.

The weather for Monday was not looking any better, so if we wanted to do something, it would have to be indoors. I figured there would be a lot of people in town for the holiday, so to avoid a lot of the crowds we decided to go out of the Orlando area. In theory this was a good idea! We headed West for Tampa to The Florida Aquarium. It seems a lot of other people had the same idea we did - when we got there the parking lot was full and there was a line out the door for tickets!

We parked in the parking garage across the street and got in line to buy tickets. Here is where my first two tips come in...
1. Park in the parking garage instead of the aquarium parking lot. You have to pay for both anyway, at least the parking garage is covered from the elements.
2. Buy your tickets ahead of time. All you need is the email confirmation code. We had already been in the line to buy tickets at the door for about 10 minutes when I noticed an empty line for online ticket sales. I actually stepped out of the line and purchased tickets right there on my phone and we walked right in!

There are five exhibits over two stories in the aquarium.

We started out in the Wetlands Trail.

There was lots to see here, lots of native Florida wildlife which is always fun to learn about. There was even some no so native species in the form of these two foot burmese pythons!

Then there is The Journey to Madagascar, with lemurs, coral reefs and tortoises.

Bays and Beaches and the coral reef showcased some of the local sea life. I loved the stingrays, the always look like they are smiling!

There are also three interactive exhibits where you can touch starfish, sea cucumbers, stingrays and horseshoe crabs

By the time we had gotten half way round the aquarium, it got very busy. We couldn't really get a good look at the rest of the exhibits as it was so crowded, but at this point we were hungry and ready to call it a day. On the way out, we actually upgraded our tickets to an annual membership, it was only another $40 total and would give us free parking! We also get a bunch of discounts on other area attractions, so it will give us lots of other places to explore!

Another tip for the aquarium - bring the kids swimsuits! There is a large splash pad area in the aquarium courtyard. There is a cafe within the aquarium that serves breakfast and lunch and then Cantina Bar and Grill outside that serves lunch, entrees run between $8-12 each. The food smelled and looked good, but we had lunch in the cooler in the car - maybe next time!

Overall, it was a fun day. I look forward to going back more when it's a little less crowded!

Flagler Avenue - What we saw and ate

I really had no requests as far as food went for this trip - except one thing. I did not want to eat at a chain restaurant. I love supporting local business and we make it a point to seek out local restaurants when we can. Luckily for me there was no chain restaurants to be found! Perfect!

Our hotel included a breakfast each morning. Saturday it was biscuits and gravy with sausage, Sunday was bacon and omlettes. There was juice and coffee, a variety of cereal and oatmeal and there was a station that you could make your own waffles. We ate here both mornings and had no complaints!

Directly accross the street from the hotel is the Beachside Candy Company.

We came here twice, one on the first night and then again before we left on Sunday - to replace the candy's we had bought on Friday! This is a cool little retro candy shop, with lots of candy from your childhood (well if you grew up in the USA anyway...) and some new variations on the old classics.

Ever heard the expression "like a kid in a candy store"? I'm pretty sure it was coined right here!

I love love love Mexican food. One of the restaurants I had seen on Google before we came out to NSB was Clancy's Cantina. We walked passed it on the way back from the beach and it looked like a fun place and smelled amazing, so I was more than happy to stop and make this our first meal of the trip. This place has been around a while, but I could not find a back story on the Irish/Mexican cross over - if there even is one! But that really didn't matter because the food was great! We split the peel and eat shrimp for an appetizer, we ordered the full pound but it felt like there was more than that in the bowl, the shrimp were big and cooked perfectly with just some Old Bay as seasoning. We got them cold, but you could also order them warm. For the main meal we split an order of steak and shrimp fajitas. The steak was cooked to our order and was served on the traditional onions and peppers. The shrimp were OK, we could have skipped them and not missed them. Or we were spoiled with the appetizer.

We enjoyed the food so much we actually went back for dinner there on Saturday night, only for that meal we got just the shrimp (and that portion seemed even bigger than Friday's) and ordered a few more drinks. Saturday night was a lot more busier than Friday and there was a long wait for a table, but we grabbed a seat at the bar instead.

We wanted to eat at one more place on Flagler Avenue before heading home on Sunday afternoon. On our last walk to the beach we passed the Flagler Tavern, outside was a board with some magical words - Unlimited Mimosa Sunday Brunch! Every Sunday from 10am - 2pm they have a special brunch menu with mimosas and bloody Mary's. We walked past around 12:45pm and decided to give the place a try. The outside decks were busy so we grabbed a table inside. They were doing some renovations to the restaurant but it didn't affect us. Unfortuntly I didn't get to see the brunch menu until I logged on their website a few days later, had I had seen it, my order would have been different. But what we ordered was still great! The waiter acknowledged I had 1 hour left of the mimosa special, so started out by bringing me 2 at a time. I got my $10's worth for sure! My favorite was the blueberry mimosa, but the Bellini was a close second. 

For food we ordered the rib eye flat bread and the Tavern Burger. The burger was juicy and the toppings (BBQ sauce, bacon and Swiss cheese) complimented it perfectly. The flat bread was topped with shaved rib eye, arugula, onions and peppers and balsamic glaze.

After sampling some great food and multiple flavors of mimosas we were ready for one last walk along the beach before returning home!

Clancy's Cantina is located at 301 Flagler Ave, New Smyrna Beach
Flagler Tavern is located at 414 Flagler Ave, New Smyrna Beach

All opinions are my own, I was not compensated in any way.

A weekend in New Smyrna Beach

It's a sad day when you realize you have made one beach trip so far this year. Seriously, how have I only been once this year? In April we made a day trip to Cocoa Beach, but in true Florida fashion it rained 30 minutes after we got there and we took shelter in a Chili's the rest of the afternoon. Here is the one picture we took that day!

So when the opportunity came to spend a weekend at the beach, we couldn't say no.  We booked two nights at the Hampton Inn in New Smyrna Beach. It was literally a last minute trip, like a make plans in 48 hours, I hope someone can look after the dog, do I even know where my bikini is, last minute trip. But those are the best kind of trips....right? I'm an over thinker by nature, and i'm even worse when it comes to vacations, forever torn between planning a hundred things or throwing my hands up in despair and relegating us to the beach the whole time. With this last minute trip I really didn't have the chance to plan much at all. I looked at Google Maps before we left and it appeared the hotel was located about a quarter mile from the beach, and there were some shops and restaurants near by - good enough for me!

We hit the road and drove about 90 minutes North East from where we live in Kissimmee. It was an easy drive, highway most of the way until we hooked a Right and headed towards the coast. My favorite part of the drive to the beach is when you first drive over one if the causeways and you catch the first climps of the ocean. 

We found our hotel easily. It was a pretty building, fitting in with the historic homes around it. 

We had a quick check in with a very helpful front desk clerk and easily found our room. We were on the second floor just a few steps away from the elevator and ice machine. Disclaimer - I forgot to take a picture of the room...but it was clean, with two queen beds and a flat screen TV. The only thing we missed that wasn't in the room was a fridge. We had brought a cooler for drinks but there wasn't a lot of extra space. I believe this hotel has "suites" that would have a small kitchenette but in a standard room, it doesn't. 

After we got settled in our room (read, took a nap) we decided to explore the surroundings a little bit. 
Google maps really didn't show how great this location was. We walked Flagler Avenue all the way to the beach, with small shops and places to eat lining both sides of the street. By this time most of the shops were closed (everywhere closed around 5:30pm - 6:00pm I am spoiled with everything open until 9pm in Orlando). We window shopped and made mental notes of the places we wanted to come back too. We eventually found ourselves on the beach, and my heart did a little happy dance. The beach was beautiful, the sand was soft and the waves were still warm.

The perfect end to a Friday night!

All opinions are my own, I was not compensated in any way for this post