After the big family meet-up in Siesta Key, the four of us headed towards Clearwater, Florida. While in Florida, we had to meet the most famous dolphin in the world: Winter! Winter is the real-life inspiration for the movie A Dolphin Tale, a favorite of 8-year-old girls around the globe. Claire had even donated some of her allowance money to Winter in the past. That is how much she likes Winter.
On the way up to Clearwater, we toured Sarasota a bit. We spent the morning at Selby Botanical Gardens, which Kit really enjoyed. The girls got to see some amazing tropical plants. Kit had also been scouting great local dining locations, and we ended up having some fantastic lunches at little restaurants like The Serving Spoon in Sarasota. We headed up to a family-ish resort called Tradewinds, in St. Pete’s Beach. It was not as cozy as our house in Siesta Key, but it was nice to have a swimming pool and a beach cabana. We did the paddle boats around the resort too, and the girls loved feeding the swans as they followed us. Kit nearly had a heart attack when she realized that her iPhone had slipped out of her pocket on the paddle boat. By almost freakish luck, the phone ended up safe and dry on a little inch-wide lip on the exterior of the boat. It was a quarter inch from becoming swan food.
Once in Clearwater, we spent most of the day at Winer’s home, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, which is really a marine animal rescue and rehab hospital that suddenly got famous with the Dolphin Tale movie. Claire had talked about seeing Winter for years now. We got to see Winter floating around in her tank. The poor thing was indeed missing her tail and was somewhat lethargic. Having come all this way to Florida, Claire got do a special (as in expensive) “dolphin encounter” with Hope, who is Winter’s friend and apparently the star of the upcoming Dolphin Tale 2. Molly was too young to do the dolphin encounter but was familiar with the movie and enjoyed seeing Winter and all the sea animals. Molly got a Winter stuffed animal, unique with its missing tail.
After many hours at the Clearwater aquarium, we headed off for our last night of the trip, near the Tampa airport. Kit had picked out a local Greek restaurant for a nice final meal. When we finally fought our way there through the St. Petersburg sprawl, hungry and thirsty from a long hot day with only a small snack or two, the family restaurant was closed for two weeks for vacation. This was a disappointment to us all, especially our stomachs. Trying to avoid a small riot, Kit directed us to a family-owned Italian restaurant nearby. It was also closed for two weeks! We all started to complain bitterly, and Kit even went so far as to say that it was “Un-American” to just close like that. Late and now really hungry, we found a Chili’s on the iPhone and headed there, mostly on the grounds that it would probably be open and have, you know, food to eat. Mercifully, they were indeed open, and we stuffed ourselves on steak and pizza and even shared a big dessert.
Then next morning, we flew home. Claire and Molly spent the next two days resting up from our big, busy family vacation in sunny Florida.