Another late night but luckily we were able to sleep until 7 am, which helped, but it was still hard to get up. After finishing packing we headed down to the breakfast room for some food. This morning they had sausage, egg and cheese biscuits – yum!
By 8:15am we were all on the bus with our entire luggage loaded and ready to head to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park for our kayaking excursion with the Florida Outfitter’s guides. First we were given our life vests and paddles and then Sam – the main guide for the day – did the mandatory safety instructions and a basic training on how to paddle a kayak. We found our “exit buddies” or kayaking buddies and divided up into three groups each launching in intervals. While kayaking we learned all about the importance of the Mangroves to the Florida coastline and all of the animals that depend on the Mangroves for nurseries for their young, for habitat and for food. We learned that there are three different kinds of Mangroves – black, red and white – red being the one most common where we were. As we paddled through the small, narrow canals and learned how to navigate the kayaks we also were able to see and learn about fire sponge, Cassiopeia jellyfish, sea cucumbers, star fish, and many other organisms. Despite a few small rain showers everyone seamed to have enjoyed themselves tremendously.
Lunch at D.J. Diner and seafood grill was next on the agenda. What a great place and what great service. Within 15 minutes of our arrival we were all seated and had our food in front of us. Chicken breast salads, BLTs, hamburgers and chicken fingers all tasted so great after our busy and fun morning.
Now it was time to head to the Everglades Safari Park for our final activity of the trip – an airboat ride through the Everglades to learn and experience more about this unique and one of a kind ecosystem. Time was a little tight and fortunately they were able to get our rides started earlier than scheduled. We were divided into two different airboats and off we went. With in just a few minutes we encountered our first wildlife – an alligator sunning itself and a turtle looking funny sticking all his legs out. We were told this was done by the turtle to keep his balance so he would not roll down the hill into the water. The airboats now picked up some speed to take us out a little further. The next time we stopped we were informed that the Everglades is actually a very slow moving river not a swamp as many people thing. It actually moves 1/4 mile per day. There are lots of different types of vegetation and wild life in the Everglades in addition to the alligators and turtles. There are lots of different types of plants and fish. We also got to see several other alligators and some were baby alligator – 6 months old or so. As the ride concluded there was a small museum where we learned more about the different types of snakes, turtles and fish found in the everglades. The tanks in the museum had a red snake/corn snake, a full-grown ball python, several rat snakes and some tiny, tiny turtles.
Once back on the bus Kristen had us all sit back and close our eyes as she recapped the trip for us. She brought us back to Tuesday morning when we first arrived and then went through all the activities and special events we had experienced all week. Before we knew it we pulled in at the airport and it was time to gather our things and head on in to the US Airways terminal to check in. Our fear that it was going to take a long time to get us all checked in, were far from true. The boarding passes had been printed out earlier in the day and within 25 minutes everyone’s had their luggage tagged and checked. Wow!! This place knows how to be efficient and take care of their customers. Next was security and once again we got special treatment and were sent through the line where we did NOT have to take off our shoes, or take out our laptops. It was fast, painless and efficient. Awesome. This gave us plenty of time to get dinner and enjoy it in a leisurely time before it was time to board the plane. The 2 hr flight went well and when we landed our 27 first time fliers in our group had become very experienced flyers. Our luck continued and our bus was on time and already waiting when we got to the baggage pickup. Usually everyone falls asleep our on the bus ride home, but not this group. They were louder than ever and seamed to have got a second surge of energy. Really! At JFH all of our parents and siblings were waiting as we arrived. Some had even made “Welcome home” signs.