When we were picking our next trip earlier this year, Seth’s one request was the ocean. And we soon settled on South Florida, since it also has three National Parks we could cross off our list!
Although we’d visited Orlando and New Smyrna Beach several years earlier, this Florida experience was definitely much different and came with a lot of firsts — like snorkeling, parasailing and seeing alligators in the wild, to name just a few! It was also my first time in any sort of tropical setting.
We were able to carve out a week to travel in early May and split it evenly between the Miami area and Key West. And with the help of the six cameras that tagged along with us, we did our best to capture it all … or at least a lot of it!
And yes, I realize how super-excessive six cameras sounds. But I actually feel we’re hitting our stride as far as figuring out exactly what gear serves us best while traveling. Plus, compared to what we’re accustomed to packing for a wedding, this was still a very light load! For anyone interested in the specifics, our camera crew for this trip included:
• 1 pro (Canon 5D Mark IV with a 24-70mm lens): For top image quality. And that particular L-series lens not only produces great images but also is wonderfully convenient in terms of focal length.
• 1 superzoom (Sony Cyber-shot RX10): For up-close wildlife shots. This camera was also a great stand-in at times we didn’t feel comfortable bringing the Canon or just didn’t want to tote around the extra weight.
• 1 drone (DJI Mavic Mini 2): For aerial shots.
• 1 action (GoPro HERO9 Black): For underwater shots as well as any other activity where using another camera would be too risky.
• 2 phones (iPhone 12s): For using as needed. Although with four other cameras, obviously a lot of our needs were covered!
– feature film –
See the occasion come alive in these video highlights!
day 1 • 05.01.21
Downtown Miami, FL
We stayed in Downtown Miami the first night of our trip (Above is the view from our hotel). We were just across the street from Bayfront Park, a shopping and entertainment area. So we spent the evening exploring it and also walked some of the nearby streets.
We ended this first night with a ride on the Skyviews Miami Observation Wheel. Not a bad city view to start things off — and it even included our hotel (the green-lit building on the left side of the photos below).
day 2 • 05.02.21
Boca Chita Key & Miami Beach
Our first National Park visit this trip was to Boca Chita Key, which is part of Biscayne National Park. Biscayne holds the distinction of being a park that’s almost entirely underwater, but obviously Boca Chita Key is a portion of it that’s not. The key’s historic lighthouse is probably the park’s most iconic symbol, so of course we had to make sure it was well captured!
Boca Chita Key also offers views of the Miami skyline …
As well as a little beach …
And a nature trail.
After a couple hours there, it was time for the boat ride back to Miami … where we were greeted by manatees!
Our next stop was our hotel in the South Beach neighborhood of Miami Beach.
We walked down to South Pointe Park just in time for golden hour.
Finally, at sunset, we made our way down to South Beach and had our first dip in the ocean this trip.
By the time we started the walk back to our hotel, it was dark. We kept wading through the waves anyway — feeling them a lot more than we could see them — which made that a particularly memorable long walk on the beach!
day 3 • 05.03.21
Everglades National Park (Shark Valley) & Biscayne National Park
Shark Valley is at the north entrance of Everglades National Park, which is enormous — covering 1.5 million acres. This makes it the largest National Park east of the Mississippi River and the third largest in the contiguous United States (after Death Valley and Yellowstone). It’s also the only ecosystem in the world where alligators and crocodiles coexist.
Someone’s ready for a safari (or at least a Floridian version of one)! We did a short hike through some mangrove trees and marsh grass while waiting to leave on a tram ride through Shark Valley.
Our first alligator sighting! Seth happened to catch my excited reaction on video (in a clip included in the highlight film at the top of this post) as the tram pulled alongside it.
Halfway through the tram tour, we stopped at the Shark Valley Observation Tower, which gives great views from its 45-foot-tall observation deck.
An anhinga. They dry their wings like this after diving for fish.
One last (baby!) alligator sighting from the tram …
And then we decided to do more exploring on our own. We were rewarded right away with this guy, who we named George. He swam right by us before stopping at the water’s edge (Follow my finger in the shot below … Seth posed me just right for literally pointing him out!).
A blue heron with a late lunch. We felt bad for that pretty fish, but for better or for worse (depending on whether you’re the bird or the fish), this was nature in action.
This turtle was so cute (and persistent) as it went after that flower that wasn’t an easy reach.
Seth’s on-the-road film studio — a phone on a gimbal on a selfie stick! You won’t see us with this set-up at weddings, but it does sometimes come in handy while hiking.
There were two different sets of baby birds in this nest; if you look closely, you can see the tinier ones in front.
After leaving Shark Valley, we stopped at the main entrance of Biscayne National Park. One of our main goals there was to find a pewter magnet at the visitor center. I kind of hate putting anything on a refrigerator door — it can be too clutter-y for my taste — but I’ve found I’m OK with pewter magnets, since they blend into the stainless steel finish. So the front of our refrigerator is dedicated to showcasing our National Park magnets, and it’s always a little bit of an adventure to search for them (since the pewter ones aren’t always the easiest to find).
We also took a walk along a trail behind the visitor center.
day 4 • 05.04.21
Everglades National Park & Everglades Alligator Farm
On our second day in the Everglades, we visited the area accessible through the south entrance (which is also the main entrance).
Our first hike was Anhinga Trail (where we did see anhingas like the one above).
Our next hike was Gumbo Limbo Trail, which winds through a jungle-like hammock of gumbo limbo trees.
Another alligator-at-the-end-of-my-finger photo op.
Our last Everglades hike, a little farther from the park entrance, was Pa-hay-okee Trail.
After leaving the park, we went to Everglades Alligator Farm, the oldest alligator farm in South Florida. First up there was an airboat ride …
An alligator sighting from the boat. This was not a place you’d want to swim!
The ride was a lot of fun, with 360-degree turns that sprayed water into the boat. The GoPro video footage we shot definitely did the experience more justice than these stills.
This alligator may look decorative, but it’s real! It just happened to crawl out of the pool during an alligator show and position itself almost perfectly centered underneath the sign.
We got to hold baby alligators after the show, and I was obviously a little in love.
In addition to alligators, the farm also had other animals, like this especially memorable emu …
Our final stop at the farm was this alligator feeding, where Seth got these awesome shots in the midst of the frenzy.
Then it was back to the hotel for our own feeding. Although the alligators seemed to enjoy their rats, we went for Chipotle instead.
day 5 • 05.05.21
Key West, FL
We set out for Key West with a perfect forecast awaiting us for that leg of our trip.
The best views of the Overseas Highway are from above, so we found a place to pull off and fly our drone.
In Key West, we stayed in a house that had been converted into a hotel in the historic district. Our room opened onto the backyard area below.
A little after we settled in at our hotel, it was time to set out again on a dolphin-watching, snorkeling and sunset cruise. This was our first time seeing dolphins in the wild and my first time snorkeling — very exciting!
Sunset over the Gulf of Mexico.
After the cruise, we had a late dinner outside a restaurant called The Cafe, with live music coming from a place across the street. Truly a perfect end to a perfect day!
day 6 • 05.06.21
Key West, FL
This day started with another first for us both: parasailing!
Two thumbs up for this experience, which is likely the closest we’ll ever come to flying outside of a plane. We were in the air for about 10 minutes, and it was peaceful the entire time.
Key West is full of wild chickens that roam the streets — and that cross the streets, as shown above, which of course had us making “Why did the chicken cross the road?” jokes whenever we witnessed one. These chickens are descendants of ones brought from the jungles of Cuba and the Caribbean islands for food and for cockfighting. Over time, after cockfighting became illegal and food options became more abundant, many of the birds were released and led to today’s population of Key West “gypsy chickens.”
Same day, different outfit — because somehow even short sleeves felt like too much coverage in the Key West sun.
When your shirt matches your drink …
… And complements the pretty pink building behind you.
One of our must-see spots in Key West was the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum. Hemingway and his second wife, Pauline, lived in the home in the 1930s.
During the cruise we took the evening before, Seth noticed the remnants of the house in the model at the above right and asked one of the guides about it. She told us Hemingway had a party there after finishing a book and accidentally burned it down in the process. So we can say from a firsthand encounter that the metal legs are all that’s standing today!
The house itself was cool. But if I’m honest, the biggest draws for us were its resident cats — which I’ll admit I knew nothing about until my cousin happened to mention them. So thanks to her for giving me a heads up (or more precisely, a toes up) about the six-toed cats the Hemingway Home is famous for.
About 60 cats live on the property, and all are descended from a six-toed cat named Snow White that Hemingway received from a ship captain. Each has the polydactyl (six-toed) gene, with about half manifesting the physical trait that makes their front paws look like they have opposable thumbs. (Now please enjoy photos of every single cat we could find.)
This backyard pool cost $20,000 when it was built in 1938 (which is equivalent to more than $365,000 in today’s money). Legend has it that a penny still embedded in cement near the pool was Hemingway’s self-described last penny, which he supposedly placed there out of frustration over the mounting expense of the construction. Measuring 24 by 60 feet and holding more than 80,000 gallons of water, the swimming pool was the only one within 100 miles and initially had to be filled with salt water, as Key West didn’t start piping in fresh water until the 1940s.
Above right: Obligatory pic proving we’ve stood at the southernmost point of the continental U.S.!
This fun sign stands on the beach at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park (and we definitely needed Gatorade after walking all the way out there!).
This beach is the southernmost in Key West and is situated where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Gulf of Mexico.
We were enjoying the shade of this palm tree when an iguana sauntered right past us! It’s hard to tell here, but it was at least 4 feet long.
Our last stop as we made our way back to our hotel was at The Cafe — the same restaurant where we’d eaten the night before — this time for a piece of key lime pie. Key lime pie originated in Key West, so having a piece while you’re there is a must. And while our piece technically was vegan key lime cheesecake, it was so good and definitely left us feeling like we’d experienced an iconic dessert.
day 7 • 05.07.21
Dry Tortugas National Park & Key West, FL
We were up bright and early to board the Yankee Freedom Ferry, which took us on the two-hour trip to Dry Tortugas National Park. The park is on Garden Key, which is 70 miles west of Key West. This makes it one of the most remote National Parks.
Soon after we set out, we encountered these tornadic waterspouts. It was an exciting day already!
Fort Jefferson is the largest brick masonry structure in the Americas, covering 16 acres and composed of more than 16 million bricks. It was constructed over the course of almost 30 years (1846 to 1875) to protect a critical deepwater harbor just half a mile away and, in the process, to guard U.S. shipping interests.
The fort also served as a prison during the Civil War, when it was Union-controlled (and most prisoners were Union deserters). Its most famous prisoner was Dr. Samuel Mudd, the physician who set the broken leg of John Wilkes Booth.
The bricks at the top of the fort are darker because they were added during the Civil War, when using regional materials wasn’t an option and bricks thus had to be shipped all the way from Maine.
After exploring the fort, we donned snorkel gear to explore the sea around it! This water is said to be some of the warmest and clearest in the country.
I was initially a little disappointed to discover there’d been water on the GoPro lens for this shot, then decided to embrace it as a cool effect that tells the story of taking photos while mostly submerged in an ocean.
One last look at Fort Jefferson as the ferry started back to Key West.
On our last evening in Key West, we went to see the sunset and street performers at Mallory Square.
Our video highlights include Day 8 — with us traveling all the way from Key West to Kansas City — but I’ll conclude the photos here on Day 7, with me suntanned and smiling at sunset. I’d say it’s a good look for ending a great trip!
I'm a print-journalist-turned-wedding-photographer who fully believes in the value of telling true stories beautifully. By means of a camera, I am a curator so my clients can be keepers of their most important moments.
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