Apr 30, 2013

How I Spent My Spring Break (or the Great Florida Road Trip): Winter Homes and Alligators

After our amazing manatee snorkel trip, we drove south. We planned to end our day at a hotel in Naples. On the way, we decided to make a stop at the Edison and Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers. We arrived with just enough time to see the property, but unfortunately, were not able to spend much time in the museum.

Thomas Edison purchased this winter retreat in the late 1890s and his friend, Henry Ford, eventually bought the property next door in the 1910s. Edison's property had beautiful furnishings and was dotted with many of his inventions.

The properties sit on the Caloosahatchee River and the grounds host acres and acres of botanic gardens. 

The Moonlight Garden was my favorite space on the property. I can imagine what a beautiful place it would be to be at night.

The gardens are composed of thousands of varieties of plants, trees and flowers, including huge banyan trees, orchids and the biggest bougainvillea bush I've ever seen. 

Another cool part of the property is Edison's botanic research laboratory. Even after he found great success with his inventions, he never stopped working. 

After a night in the worst hotel of our entire trip, we drove to Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge's Marsh Trail, where we were able to view the landscape from an observation tower. 

While we didn't see any alligators, we did see herons and plenty of fish. 

Next we found ourselves walking along the Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk in Big Cypress National Preserve. Again, no gators here but there was some lovely foliage. 

We made our lunch stop at Joanie's Blue Crab Cafe. Apparently, the paper ran an article on them a day or two before because they could not stop moaning about how slammed they were and how unprepared they were for the crowds and it showed.

I tried to order the soft-shell crab sandwich, which they didn't have. Instead, I got the crab cake sandwich. My bun was burned and partly inedible, but the crab cake and fries were outstanding.

After lunch, we finally found ourselves in gator land. Just driving along 41, you can see tons and tons of alligators, swimming, sunning and just hanging around. It was really really cool to see them in nature, doing what alligators do. 

We tried to make it all the way to the Shark Valley Visitor Center, but we had booked ourselves on to an afternoon airboat tour, which we had to get to. This is something we would soon regret.

I hated our airboat tour! If you want to go zooming around through mangrove swamp at high speeds on a loud, eco-unfriendly machine with animal harassing guides, go for it, but I really wished we hadn't done this. Raisin Bread thought at one point I was going to start yelling at our guide. Instead of being there, I would have much rather been continuing to drive along the dirt roads, looking for alligators. By the way, the only animal we saw on the airboat tour was a single gator.

Here we are trying to pretend like we're having fun. Again, if I didn't make it clear, I do not recommend you go on an airboat tour.

We wound down the day with another two and a half hour drive to Homestead, Florida for the night.

To see more photos of the Edison and Ford Winter Estates, click here
To see more photos of the alligators, click here

Joanie's Blue Crab Cafe
39395 Tamiami Trail E
Ochopee, FL 34141

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