We got a late start this morning, opting to repay yesterday’s sleep debt. Neither of us rolled out of bed until after 10, and we didn’t leave the room until after 11 in search of breakfast.
We ended up at First Watch, a purportedly “healthy” option. We did not select the healthy options. Okay, healthy… Ish. Does glazed bacon count as healthy? I’m pretty sure it does. Regardless, the food far exceeded expectations, and we’ll likely be heading back tomorrow (assuming we get moving early enough).
Next stop, after prioritizing the tourist brochures from last night: The Florida Aquarium! I’m a total sucker for these places. When we looked it up, we discovered that not only is it a full aquarium, but they also offer a wild dolphin cruise, and swim and dive opportunities with sharks! Unfortunately – once again – I was unable to go diving or even swimming with them. The dive opportunities are only at 9am, and the swim experience was unsurprisingly already sold out for the day. We were able to secure tickets for the wild dolphin cruise though! We had a bit of time before lining up for the cruise, so we stopped to pet the sand sharks and watch the manta ray feeding.
We managed to get seats on the bow of the ship for the best viewing opportunities. Shortly after leaving the dock, a dolphin swam up beside us on the port side and I caught a glimpse of it majestically leaping into the air alongside us. The nature behaviorist onboard, Samantha, called it “wave riding”, and it’s among the fastest ways a dolphin can travel. After the dolphin’s leap into the air, we lost sight of it and I didn’t see any others for the rest of the cruise. There were a few reported brief sightings, but none that surfaced or stuck around for very long.
When it was time for the ship to turn around, we headed straight into our own wake as we came about and continued to crash headfirst against the tide, with each surge coming aboard and splattering everyone standing at the bow – including us. Most everyone else left the bow of the ship within the first few minutes, but not us Seattleites! We’re used to being wet. Thank the rain. The ocean mist was surprisingly refreshing, at least for the first bit until we picked up speed and our own wind coupled with the increasingly drenched clothes took on quite the chill in the mid-60 degree weather. Still, we were the last to leave the bow by several minutes and I believe we earned a reputation among the rest of the passengers. Upon entering the enclosed portion of the deck, we were met with a number of incredulous looks at our water-soaked clothing. We dried out quickly on the return trip, hardly noticeable at all by the time we returned to our slip, and we had just enough time to see the rest of the aquarium’s exhibits before it closed for the day.
After leaving the aquarium, we stopped by Hyde Park Village and quickly realized it wasn’t for us. The entire area screamed “tourist trap” and overpriced shopping. Still, we made sure to familiarize ourselves with the area since we may end up in the vicinity again tomorrow during the festivities. Concerningly, the more locals we speak to, the more of them describe it as a drunken shitshow, and not in a positive way. We shall see.
We walked back to the 4 Rivers Smokehouse for dinner. We passed it on last night’s walk shortly after they closed and the smell called back to us. It did not disappoint. We briefly returned to the hotel to fill out some required paperwork for Sunday’s cruise departure, then left again in search of some good, local craft beer. Lo and behold, a Blind Goat knows how to pick a good beer. We met a few locals who continued the story of Gasparilla being a festival of drunks without purpose or wit. They recommended a few local craft breweries we should check out tomorrow if we get tired of the chaos of Gasparilla: Cigar City Brewing and Angry Chair. The latter may be too far out of our way without a car, but we may make port to the former tomorrow after the parade if it really doesn’t end up being our scene.
As I’ve been writing this blog post, several barely-21s (at best) have begun to pile into the hotel room next to ours. The walls are already thin here, and I counted at least half a dozen who piled into the room, many of whom carrying boxes of what I can only expect is booze. One of them proclaimed loudly after clomping through the outdoor hallway to the room at midnight, “we’re gonna get so f***ed up!”. I can still hear them now. This will be… interesting.
I’ve tried to provide some sorting order to these photos, but my phone uploaded them in a seemingly random order!