Saturday, July 25, 2015

Aaron and Yolanda Visit--Everglades Alligator Farm

Our next day of adventures with Aaron and Yolanda was spent at the Everglades Alligator Farm.  This place had quickly become a staple in our go-to touring options for guests.  It's located all the way down in Homestead (about an hours drive south of where we live) but we think it's totally worth it!  No where else we've found has made the fan boat ride so thrilling.  It's the only place that has the top off, headphones supplied, and does multiple 360 turns throughout the ride.  It's also located thick in the Everglades so we always see wild gators.  Since it was the weekend, there were more people than we had planned on, but we still had a blast, especially this reptile-loving toddler.

Climbing on the wooden alligator bench

Checking out some of the other exhibits...
Florida panther, turtles, fish, an owl, a couple different types of crocodiles and LOTS of alligators.

He loved watching all the fish swimming around the turtles.

He also loved saying hi to the large crocodile.

Looking into the alligator breeding pond...
So many gators!

Before our fan boat ride, we were able to catch the snake show.  They introduced us to several different snakes local to the Florida everglades.  Even though the python is not indigenous to the Florida everglades, it is slowly taking over large areas  due to illegal pet importing and illegal release into the wild.  Yolanda and I were both excited to get to hold one for a quick picture.

Since Gracie is less than a year old, I offered to stay back and watch her while everyone else rode the fan boat.  I had been on it so many times and knew I'd be going on it again soon.  Aaron and Yolanda ended up riding in the front row (perfect for getting the most water) while Daxton and Dallas sat directly behind them.

I loved seeing how happy this little guy was as the fan boat returned.  He obviously had a great time with daddy!

Daxton was super excited to tell me all about the fan boat ride.

We had a little time to kill before the Alligator wrestling show, so we had some fun exploring some of the different exhibits, including the reptile house and numerous baby alligator pits.

Posing in front of "Grandpa"
Not that was a BIG gator!

They also had lots of different tropical birds to look at.  I couldn't help but snap some cute pics of gorgeous Gracie giving her momma some loves.

Daxton had a blast throwing little rocks into the breeding pond.  As we were circling the area there were several gators resting right next to the chain link fence.  Daxton kept trying to reach his fingers through to touch them.  Needless to say we had to have a long talk about the necessity to never touch gators, unless they're babies and mom or dad are holding them.  He's a bit too comfortable with these things!

Loving on sweet little Gracie!

We loved watching the alligator wrestling show, but I had my arms full with Daxton so I didn't end up taking any pictures.  Aaron and Yolanda were able to get a quick pick holding a baby gator after the show to finish off our adventures at Everglades Alligator Farm.

To follow tradition, after the alligator farm we stopped at the Robert Is Here farmers market.  We bought lots of different yummy fresh tropical fruit, homemade guacamole, salsa, and chips, and other yummy goodies for the road.  We also each got a fresh fruit smoothie to tide us over until dinner.
It was another awesome day with Aaron, Yolanda, and Gracie!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Aaron and Yolanda Visit--Miami Waterfront

After spending the morning exploring the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, we brought Aaron and Yolanda to Bayside Harbor on the Miami Waterfront.  We had been there a few times and had always had a blast people watching and experiencing a bit of the Cuban culture.  It was the perfect location to spend an afternoon with great music, dancing, and yummy food.

There are several fun shops throughout Bayside Harbor, but we were mostly there for the entertainment.  It took about 5 minutes for us to gravitate towards the live outdoor music.  Dallas was a sweetheart and got us fun smoothies while we watched the festivities.  The grey skies parted and turned into a beautiful sunny afternoon.

There was a live Latin band playing with several of the locals dancing in front of the stage.  Both Aaron and Yolanda speak Spanish and were in heaven with all the Latin influences in south Florida.  Yolanda hopped at the chance to show off her dancing skills.  Once again I wish I could remember how to post videos, because Yolanda can dance!  I can't remember which country her partner said he was from, but he was incredible as well and had her twirling all over the dance floor.  He and his friends were pretty shocked when they found out she was Indian, not Latin.

Just some of the amazing people watching we were able to see...
Gotta love the Miami Crazy flavor!

After a few more songs, we made our way down the harbor to a yummy group of ethnic restaurants, right on the water, for lunch/dinner.  The views of the harbor were gorgeous with beautiful yachts and the Miami skyline in the distance.

Family pics in front of Miami's harbor...
Gotta love Dallas's crazy curls!

Daxton had a blast exploring Bayside Harbor and loved the extra attention from Yolanda.

Looking out into the harbor
I love all those colors!
We ate at the yummiest Argentinian place, with fried plantains, black beans, rice, and bbq pulled chicken.  My tummy was extremely happy!

Do you think he has any clue how amazing his life is??

Since we had a couple little ones in tow, we left Miami early evening, before the REAL crazies came out ;)  We had so much fun showing Aaron and Yolanda the exciting and beautiful aspects of such a fun city.  It was a good day.

Aaron and Yolanda Visit--Exploring Vizcaya

February is right in the middle of busy season for Dallas, so Aaron and Yolanda made sure their trip overlapped a weekend in order to spend at least a little time with him in-between work clients.  For our main day together we wanted to show them some highlights of Miami.  I had heard amazing things about the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, but had never been so we thought it would be the perfect place to visit first on our adventurous day in Miami.

Vizcaya turned out to be amazing and is now my absolute favorite place in the city.  If you want to read more about the history and funding that has gone into the preservation of Vizcaya there are several great articles online.  I also attached a few excerpts from Wikipedia's page below...

Villa Vizcaya, now named the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, is the former villa and estate of businessman James Deering, of the Deering McCormick-International Harvester fortune, on Biscayne Bay in the present day Coconut Groveneighborhood of Miami, Florida
The estate property originally consisted of 180 acres (730,000 m2) of shoreline Mangrove swamps and dense inland native tropical forests. Being a conservationist, Deering sited the development of the estate portion along the shore to conserve the forests. This portion was to include the villa, formal gardens, recreational amenities, expansive lagoon gardens with new islets, potager and grazing fields, and a village services compound.
James Deering died in September 1925, on board the steamship SS City of Paris en route back to the United States. After his death Vizcaya was inherited by his two nieces, Marion Chauncey Deering McCormick and Ely Deering McCormick Danielson. Over the decades, after hurricanes and increasing maintenance costs, they began selling the estate's surrounding land parcels and outer gardens. In 1945 they sold significant portions of the Vizcaya property to the Catholic Diocese of St. Augustine, Florida, to build Miami's Mercy Hospital. 50 acres (200,000 m2) comprising the main house, the formal gardens, and the village were retained. In 1952 Miami-Dade County acquired the villa and formal Italian gardens, needing significant restoration, for $1 million. Deering's heirs donated the villa's furnishings and antiquities to the County-Museum.[5][10] Vizcaya began operation in 1953 as the Dade County Art Museum. The village and remaining property were acquired by the County during the mid-1950s. In 1994 the Vizcaya estate was designated as a National Historic Landmark.[3] 
The Estate is now known officially as the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, which consists of 50 acres (200,000 m2) with the villa and the gardens, and the remaining native forest. The estate is a total of 50 acres (200,000 m2), of which 10 acres (40,000 m2) contain the Italian Renaissance formal gardens, and 40 acres (160,000 m2) are circulation and the native 'hammock' (jungle forest). The villa's museum contains more than seventy rooms of distinctive architectural interiors decorated with numerous antiques, with an emphasis on 15th through early 19th century European decorative art and furnishings.

I have three complaints from our visit, although each are understandable in their own right.  First, the parking is very limited, so if you are not there early on a Saturday morning you have to park off property and cross a very busy street, which is quite difficult/dangerous with children.  I understand that the property itself was built in the early 1900s and as such did not anticipate the need for parking 100 years later.  It was just frustrating to realize the limited space when we arrived.  Second, it costs around 18$ per person to enter and they made us pay for Daxton as well.  I understand that there are daily maintenance and restoration needs for upkeep on such a beautiful and large property, but the price seemed steep to me.  I was also frustrated that they made us pay for a three year old.  Third, we were not allowed to take any pictures of the inside of the estate.  Asking for no-flash photography is totally understandable, but denying all photography what-so-ever is extreme I think.
Those are my complaints.

Here are the things I LOVED...

The details in all of the carvings, down to the ornate entrance gates were beautiful.

I loved how all the neighboring streets were lined with stunning Oak trees draped in Spanish Moss.

There were gorgeous nature trails that wound through the preserve, all lined with dense tropical plants and pops of colorful flowers.

After we arrived, we each took our time exploring the estate.  I have to admit this was VERY nerve wracking with an active three year old.  Daxton listens really well, but even he was tempted to touch everything in his path and try to climb under all those velvet puffy ropes.  Needless to say, Dallas, Daxton, and I toured the estate rather quickly.  It was absolutely stunning though, even for such a quick tour.

We did, however, spend a good amount of time exploring the 10 acres of stunning and diverse gardens.  I am constantly amazed at all the different plant life that grows in south Florida.  It makes me keep shaking my head thinking we are in another country.

One of my favorite spots at Vizcaya is the waterfront looking out at Biscayne Bay.  Boats used to dock along the decayed rock ship remains with a grand bridge for visitors to walk up to the estate.  What a sight that must have been!

We spent a long time sitting on the stairs descending down into the bay.  There were all sorts of marine life that have reclaimed the area.  Thick green moss covered the lowest stair as well which was entirely emerged in the bay water.

Daxton had a blast jumping on and off the stairs, splashing into the ocean below.  Every time he splashed and water would spray up to his chest and face, he would squeal with delight.  I love watching the simple joys that surround this sweet boy.

One of my favorite pictures from our day...

The waterfront was absolutely stunning and reminded me a bit of Venice with the poles lining the sea wall to tie off boats.

There were two gorgeous, weathered gazebos at each end of the waterfront.  Dallas and Daxton had a blast dropping little goldfish crackers off the bridge into the water.  They thought it was pretty funny when real fish below would eat the goldfish crackers they had dropped.  I love the middle picture below of Daxton's cute little legs and feet.  I don't want him to ever grow up!

Inside the weathered gazebo.  You can tell there's been a few hurricanes that have come through over the years, but it is still absolutely stunning.

Looking out through the gazebo...

The gazebo is snugged up tight against the mangrove swamp and Biscayne Bay.  

After spending awhile on the waterfront, we ventured into the 10 acre gorgeously maintained gardens.  There were little pockets, caves, squares, hills, trails, all to explore.  I could have spent hours simply walking the grounds.  They did such a good job of showing off all sorts of plant life and architectural structures.  They even had a small courtyard with cacti in the center.  It was surrounded by coral rock formations and arches.

Just some of the highlights from the main gardens...

At certain points I looked around and couldn't help but feel like I was in an Indian Jones movie with all the overgrown staircases and hanging trees.  Daxton was in pure toddler exploration heaven!

These boys had so much fun going up and down the different stairs...

Another absolute favorite from our days' adventures...

Dallas and Aaron were so patient with Yolanda and I as we both totally geeked out from all the incredible photo ops.  We both spent forever snapping pictures of the stunning architecture and gardens.  Daxton didn't mind as long as he was allowed to climb on anything and everything...

Before we left, I was able to take a few quick pictures of this gorgeous family below...

I love Gracie's adorable expressions in each of these pics!

As we were walking back to our car, Yolanda was able to snap a few of these cute pics of our little man.
He has become quite the ham for pictures nowadays!
I still can't get over how grown up this little man looks...
We had such a great morning exploring the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens.  It was absolutely stunning and I would totally go back again.

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