great Day on the Florida gulf coast

Our friends from Goodtimes Boat Rentals Sean and Nicole, took us out for a day on the water and the one word I can come up with to sum up the experience would be SPECTACULAR!!! My wife and my six year old son share my enthusiasm for this day long excursion and my son did not want it to end even though he was exhausted. From dolphins and sting rays jumping out of the water, walking on and swimming on shallow sand bars to the great food at Rum Bay Restaurant and drinks along the way, our day was truly one of the best days we have had living here along the Florida Gulf Coast. I highly recommend that you get in touch with Sean from Goodtimes Boat Rentals and see Florida how it was meant to be seen - from the water in one of their beautiful boats!

Come along with us on our trip and you will get a small taste of what our day was like and how much fun you and your family can have when you head down on your next vacation.

The map below shows our trip course to help you follow along and get some ideas about where you might want to go on your trip. Be sure you click on the Turtle icons to see photos from our little excursion and get a better idea of what we saw along the way!

Looking at Infinity
I understand the lyrics from Rod Stewart's song "Rhythm of My Heart" now more than ever. When we left Goodtimes Boat Rentals, and headed down the canal toward the Myakka River that opens up into Charlotte Harbor. There were several points along the way where it looked like the "ocean met the sky" (as the lyrics to the song go) and both seemed to go on forever. It's one of those moments in your life where you can really appreciate how small you are and how BIG, beautiful and precious our earth is. I remember thinking, if only every moment in our lives could be like this, if only every view could look like this. I am not much for getting emotional but it was hard not to be overwhelmed when you are looking at something that beautiful and amazing. the photo of this moment doesn't really do it justice but hopefully it will give you a small sense of what I am talking about.

Reaching Charlotte Harbor
Once you get through the canal you hit the mouth of the Myakka River and turn Southeast toward Charlotte Harbor. Once again the ocean met the sky and took our breath away. We were lucky on this day because a very early morning storm had changed the plans of many boaters to wait till later in the day to hit the water so we had the harbor almost entirely to ourselves. There were a handful of sail boats anchored in the shallows near the mangroves and a few fishing charters but other than that it was us and miles of open water ahead. Sean throttled up and we accelerated to 45mph. In the distance I noticed a fin pop up out of the still water. Sean slowed the boat for a better look. Sure enough a small pod of dolphins cruised by at a leisurely pace just behind a small school of bait fish swimming frantically away from the advancing pod and trying to avoid becoming breakfast. I grabbed my phone and caught a brief glimpse of the dolphins before they past us and headed off to continue their hunt.

We didn't know really what to expect but luckily we had the owner of Goodtimes Boat Rentals showing us the ropes and taking us on this fantastic excursion! Even with eight years of owning his boat rental business Sean hasn't been down every channel and waterway so he decided to head down a little canal to do some exploring himself. My son took the wheel of the boat under Sean's watchful eyes as we slowly meandered down this sleepy canal. Flanked on the right side by a beautiful golf course and on the left by large houses with awesome boats hooked to private docks. Eventually the canal ended and we headed for open water and towards a shallow sand bar where the locals like to play, cool off, and party on pretty much any day of the week. Located near this sand bar is an old train track that is slowly deteriorating under the hot Florida sun and eroding from many years of salt water battering its steel and wooden structure.

"The Charlotte Harbor and Northern Railroad not only brought phosphate and supplies to Gasparilla Island, it also brought wealthy people from the north. By 1910 Boca Grande Pass was already famous for its unequalled tarpon fishing among fishermen, who stayed at Mrs. Potter Palmer’s Useppa Inn on nearby Useppa Island. The railroad station in what would become downtown was built; roads, sidewalks, streetlights, shops, a post office, and water and telephone service were not far behind." If you enjoy history as much as I do just click the underlined text for more information about the mining industry in Charlotte Harbor.

As we played on the sand bar we found sand dollars and little crabs crawling along the sand below us. My six year old son Gabriel was having the time of his life exploring and inspecting these new little creatures. after a brief stay on the sand bar we decided to head out and try a great restaurant called Rum Bay, located on Palm Island. Apparently you can only get to this place by boat which is true of so many places like this along the coast. This fun restaurant was nice and cool and the atmosphere was very welcoming. As far as the food is concerned you really can't go wrong with any of the delicious items on their menu.

After a brief respite to refuel our sun kissed bodies we were back on the water and headed to another sandbar. This time the sandbar was located near Stump Pass. There was quite the crowd at this sand bar but it was still a blast and there were plenty of little sea urchin, manatees and tons of Florida Fighting Conch around to see and enjoy. Stump Pass is located just over two miles from one of our favorite beaches, Manasota Key AKA Englewood Beach, which is hands down the best place to find shark teeth on the beach.

Once we were done cooling off at the Stump Pass Sandbar Sean and Nicole suggested we make one last stop before heading back home. Sean chose to head out into the Gulf of Mexico and beeline it South along the coast to our next destination.

We headed back down the coast and our trusted Captain/Tour Guide took us into the Pine Island Sound to a place called Cabbage Key, named for the abundance of cabbage palms. This little gem was the last stop on our day long trek and I must say it was my absolute favorite. There is a rumor that Jimmy Buffet authored his famous "Cheese Burger in Paradise" song shortly after visiting and eating at the aptly named Dollar Bill Bar and I would have to agree with Jimmy Buffett if the rumors are true, this was truly the definition of paradise!

Cabbage Key, FloridaAfter docking on the key we were greeted by none other than the Ninja Turtles! My son was fascinated by the size of these tortoises and their nonchalant attitude towards his presence. When we were done playing paparazzi with the Ninja Turtles we headed into the famous Dollar Bill Bar to grab a cold one and relax. Settling in at one of the tables near the bar it's pretty easy to see why they call the place the "Dollar Bill Bar". Taped to the walls of the bar are roughly 70,000 dollar bills covering every inch of space from floor to ceiling and speaking of the ceiling, it is covered too. Twice a year this money is taken down and donated to various local charities. How did the dollar bill covered interior traditions start you ask - As the tale goes, when the establishment opened back in 1944 a fisherman taped his autographed bill to the wall as a way of guaranteeing an ongoing bar tab which gave rise to the unofficial Dollar Bill Bar name. The tradition continues to this day and you can see and read the names and brief messages from tourists from all over the world who make their way to this little slice of heaven. Speaking of slices, apparently we missed out on some frozen no-bake KEY Lime pie that I will have to make a special trip for - this is my excuse to go back. With the sun inching its way to the horizon I was a little sad that we didn't get to stay long enough to hike the 45 minute nature trail but we did make a trip up the whitewashed water tower that has been a landmark fixture on the island for more than 80 years. The staircase up the tower is a bit akward to navigate, especially after a few cold ones but the view is worth the effort. We snapped some quick pictures of the surrounding landscape and took a minute to absorb yet another spiritual moment. After the tower we made our way back to our boat and headed for home.

My son dosed on my wife's lap as we headed back to home and I made eye contact with her. Her expression was one of complete contentment and relaxation and I could tell that she enjoyed herself as much as I did. The best part of this trip was getting to share it with two of the people I love most in this world and two new friends that gave us a memory that will last forever!

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