2019 Chase The Sunshine Trip

Friday, 12/27/2019 – It was FINALLY time to head out on our 2019 Chase The Sunshine Trip! After a quick trip to the eye doctor and a few hours of work, we headed home to pack the truck and get on the road. Half of the group left Pennsylvania on Christmas Day to begin the journey, towing the camper. We left the house on Friday, 12/27/2019, at 12:38pm to start the 18+ hour drive to Key Largo, Florida. Since there were three of us in the truck, we planned to drive through the night in order to get to our destination (and away from the cold!) as quickly as possible.

Our journey’s path, with plenty of delays to keep things interesting on a Friday afternoon.

We hit some traffic, but, overall, the drive was good and we made pretty good time on Friday. We passed into Virginia around 5pm; North Carolina around 7:30pm; and South Carolina around 10:30pm.

Saturday, 12/28/2019 – After 21ish hours on the road, we arrived at King’s Kamp at 10:15am.  It felt FANTASTIC to pull in, step out of the truck and be warm.  Not just warm, but, actually kind of hot.  We immediately headed to get our tent set up, as the skies threatened rain. Not more than 10 minutes after getting our tent set up, the skies opened up and it downpoured.  Thankfully, we made the decision a few years ago to invest $200 in a new tent and that $200 investment was well worth it when the tent, the contents and us stayed dry during this storm (and all of the rain we got during the week).

After getting things settled at our camp site, we loaded all loaded in the truck and headed to Diver’s Direct to pick up a few sets of snorkel gear for the rest of the group and some new fins for Alexis.  Everyone left Diver’s Direct happy and we decided we would plan to try out snorkeling at John Pennecamp State Park the next day to make sure everyone’s snorkel gear worked well.

After leaving Diver’s Direct, we headed to Sharkey’s for some dinner and drinks on their happy hour specials.  There was a pretty big crowd, we had a pretty lackluster waiter and everyone was pretty exhausted so we headed back to the campground shortly after finishing dinner.  We headed for bed around 7pm Saturday night, read for a good sleep after a long week and a lot of time on the road.  There’s nothing quite like sleeping in a tent, at the end of December, with a temperature of 76°.  It was pretty incredible!

Sunday, 12/29/2019 – After some much needed sleep and a shower Sunday morning, we felt normal again and were ready to get our week underway!  First up was a trip to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park for snorkeling to check out the shipwreck not far from the shoreline.  It only cost us $11 total for the 6 of us to get into John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, which was well worth the money for a few hours of fun in the sun.

The water at Pennekamp was warm enough at 76° but visibility was pretty terrible.  There were a ton of people with masks, fins and snorkels on, performing a variety of snorkel-like behaviors in the 20′ deep or less water.  The area was extremely silted up and it was pretty hard to see anything without being nearly right on top of it.  We were able to scope out some cannons, a HUGE anchor and some small parrotfish; and Josh was lucky enough to see a lobster in a hidey-hole off the ledge of rock.

Sunken cannons covered in underwater growth.
Josh’s discovery: a lobster in a hidey-hole

We took some time to visit the aquarium inside the park again this year and it’s contents didn’t disappoint. Lots of cool little Florida Keys critters and free since we already paid admission to the state park.

After everyone had their fill of snorkeling at John Pennekamp, we agreed that we wanted to check out our options for reasonably priced fishing trips for the 6 of us for later in the week.  We stopped by the marina by the Courtyard by Mariott Key Largo where it’s essentially a flea market of fishing charters and dive operators, lined up along a waterway, waiting to sell trips and take boats out.  I was pretty insistent that we try out the charter boat that had a huge shark mouth painted on the front of it, and, I’m pretty pleased to say that’s the one we chose!  We booked 1/2 day fishing trips with Sailors Choice Party Boat $45 a person and set up the trip for Tuesday morning, which also happened to be New Year’s Eve.  We headed back to the campground, got showers and feasted upon some incredible cheesesteaks before walking to the Caribbean Club to watch the sunset and listen to the band.

We drank too much and sang along with the band for hours, but, MOST of us ended up back at the campground before midnight, which was pretty impressive!

Monday, 12/30/2019 – Josh and I had been researching dive operators that would be able to accommodate a mixed boat of both divers and snorkelers for a trip but everything we were finding was pretty expensive.  When we were driving back to the campground, we noticed that there was a dive shop right next to the campground that had signs in the windows advertising mixed boats of divers and snorkelers, with a maximum of 6 people on the boat.  It sounded perfect for our group, but, I figured it would be way too expensive.  I am really happy that we walked over Monday morning and spoke to the Quiescence staff!  We booked a mixed boat (2 divers and 4 snorkelers) for a half day for $55 per snorkeler and $79 per diver.  (Everyone in our group had absolutely everything they needed for diving or snorkeling – including tanks and weights – so we didn’t need to rent anything from Quiescence, though that is definitely an option for a small fee.)  We booked our trip for Thursday morning with a check-in time of 9am at the Quiescence shop.

We planned to hop in the truck and head to Key West today, leaving between 9am – 10am.  But, we never actually got on the road until around 1:30pm and after sitting in traffic for 2 hours to go about 15 miles, we scrapped the idea for the day and made other plans.  We made a stop at the Key Largo Fisheries for lunch and the food was great!  I had a lobster BLT, Josh had a lobster cheesesteak and both were fantastic.  And, we each had slices of key lime pie, too.

Lobster BLT
Lobster cheesesteak.
Key lime cheesecake. YUM!

After stuffing ourselves at Key Largo Fisheries, we headed back to the campground as some of our group was still feeling the after effects of the previous night’s fun.  We cracked open some cocktails, played a few hours of Head’s Up and laughed, ALOT.

Tuesday, 12/31/2019 – We arrived at the Sailors Choice Party Boat dock promptly at 8am and were ready to go fishing!

It was a great decision to go with Sailors Choice as the Captain and crew were fantastic and did their best to get everyone on the boat catching fish.  Fishing was pretty good and our group ended up cleaning up 20 fish total from the trip including strawberry grouper, white grunt, porgie, yellowtail snapper, blue runner and a 17″ mutton snapper.  The crew happily cleaned the fish for us when we returned to the dock and a nurse shark came to clean up the fish scraps, too.

We stopped at the grocery store on our way back to the campground to pick up supplies for fish tacos.  Fresh fish tacos are one of my absolute favorite foods so I was pretty pleased with lunch!  We hung out around the campground for the rest of the afternoon and enjoyed the last sunset of 2019 at the campground’s dock, cocktails in hand, laughing.  Not a bad way to wrap up 2019 at all!

After the sunset, we hung out at the pier to catch the holiday boat parade that had been (thankfully) rescheduled due to the weather last week. We got some GREAT ideas for decorating our boat next year!

After the festitivies, we walked down to the Caribbean Club for some cocktails but retreated back to the campground’s dock to watch the New Year’s Eve fireworks show.  It was the best fireworks show we’ve ever seen and it was SUPER cool to be able to watch it near the water!  Right before the fireworks, we got to see two manatees (a mama and a baby) cruising by the campground’s dock, too, which was pretty cool.  Ringing in 2020 in Key Largo definitely didn’t suck!

Wednesday, 1/1/2020 – New Year’s Day and our camp was divided between those that felt fine and those that felt a bit like death.  Eager to get back to Key West during this trip and not deterred from the other day’s horrendous traffic issues, Josh and I decided that we would be going to Key West today.  It was a beautiful day – sunny and 77° – and part of camp “feel like shit” decided to come along to Key West for the day.  Traffic was nothing like it was the other day and we had a quiet, uneventful drive from Key Largo to Key West.  We got to Key West around lunchtime and agreed that our first stop would be getting a sloppy joe at Sloppy Joe’s (because I guess that’s our tradition now).

After filling our bellies, we took a leisurely walk around Key West to snap some photos.

Since we never had, we decided to check out the Key West Aquarium (which I’m still not sure about). There was a good variety of water critters at the aquarium, but, some of the enclosures seemed pretty small for the critters to live in and the aquarium seemed to be in a bit of disrepair. We hung out for a while and really enjoyed the larger, outside area that provided sunshine and fresh air for a variety of larger fish and turtles.

Traffic from Key West to Key Largo was equally as uneventful and we returned to the campground in early evening to have some pork and sauerkraut to make sure we get that 2020 good luck.  (Note to self: need to research new year’s good luck food traditions in locations we may end up in – can’t afford to not get that yearly dose of good luck!)  We headed to bed early on Wednesday, resting up for our first dive of 2020 in the morning.

Thursday, 1/2/2020 – Thursday brought an early morning, as we had a 9am check-in with Quiescence for our dive / snorkel expedition today.

We ended up going to two different locations – North Dry Rocks and Key Largo Dry Rocks.  We got to see Christ of the Abyss (who is apparently covered in fire coral!), a HUGE trumpetfish and a TON of barracuda, among other fish.  They were two pretty good dives, even though I forgot my new camera on the first one and then completely botched the camera settings on the second dive.  Josh was able to get some great video footage (which translated into some pretty good photos) on his GoPro, though.

Christ of the Abyss
Some stoplight parrotfish and a blue tang hanging out.
We were happy to see pretty healthy reefs on both Dry Rocks dives.
Ooo, barracuda!
A TON of Sergeant Majors

By Thursday, we were both pretty sick.  Josh had gotten sick a few days before we headed to Key Largo, but, I was fending it off pretty well.  That all changed and we both ended up sick, tired and coughing A LOT by Thursday.  Since we both felt pretty shitty, we took it easy Thursday afternoon and opted to stay local and visit the Pilot House for dinner Thursday night.  The lobster macaroni and cheese was just as good as I remembered it being and the key lime pie hit the spot!  We headed to bed pretty early Thursday evening, trying to get some sleep to feel better.

Dinner with a view!

Friday, 1/3/2020 – By Friday, both Josh and I felt like walking death.  Any medicine seemed to be taking a slight edge off of the misery, but, things were still pretty shitty.  I was somehow not surprised when we both felt like shit the day we needed to drive from Florida to Pennsylvania, just the two of us in the truck.  We packed up and got an early start on the drive, leaving the campground around 10am.  After dropping Josh’s brother off at the Fort Lauderdale Airport to catch his flight, the rest of the drive from Florida to Pennsylvania is a bit of a blur of highway, cold pills and coughing.  We ended up stopping twice to nap at rest stops on the way home because we couldn’t keep our eyes open.  It was a pretty miserable trip.

Saturday, 1/4/2020 – We FINALLY arrived home around 12:00pm on Saturday! We spent the rest of the day trying to sleep off our exhaustion from being sick.

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