Blue Planet Kayak

Sea Kayaking in the Mangroves off the Florida Keys

From Miami to Key West, U.S. Route 1 leapfrogs key to key for 113 miles and across 42 overseas bridges in a rather amazing feat of engineering. Known as the Overseas Highway, U.S. Route 1 runs through the heart and soul of the Florida Keys passing by an endless supply of souvenir shops, strip malls and fast food joints directly parallel to the third largest barrier reef in the world.

Despite being one of the most touristy spots in the nation, welcoming cruise ships, bohemians, bikers, margherita drinkers, fisherman and boaters, the Florida Keys is also home to one of the most unique ecosystems in the United States. Off the tip of Florida, curving southwest for 126 miles, lies an archipelago of 1,700 islands which are part of a massive coral reef known as the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Covering 9,600 square kilometers, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is the closest federally protected coral reef in the continental United States and the third largest coral reef in the world after the Great Barrier Reef of Australia and the reefs off of Belize.

Without the barrier reefs, the entire ecological and environmental make-up of the Florida Keys would be different. Instead of the gentle, calm, nurturing warm waters that provide an essential protected habitat for fish and organisms, there would be rough waves and sandy beaches replacing the mangroves and sea grass that are the trees of life in the Keys.

Florida Keys Mangroves

Mangroves line more than 1,800 miles of shoreline within Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. In the Florida Keys, the red mangrove, black mangrove, and white mangrove tend to dominate wetland areas.

Although I have visited the Florida Keys numerous times over the past twenty years, I had no idea that that the Keys represent such an amazing ecological treasure until I spent a morning sea kayaking in the backwaters of Stock Island Key. During a fantastic two-hour ecotour with Blue Planet Kayaks, my family and I set off into the warm, shallow crystal clear waters and entered the magical canopies of mangroves where we learned all about the magnificent ecosystem of the Florida Keys.

Universal Studios Orlando

#UniversalMoments at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

“I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book.” ― J.K. Rowling

Suddenly you are soaring with the wind against your face, at breakneck speed, diving up and down in the wizarding world of Harry Potter. For a few moments in time, you feel like you are Harry Potter, Hermione or Ron racing on top a broomstick inside of their magical world at Hogwarts. You race through Hogwarts castle, nearly escaping evil wizards and creatures on every side, then you are out on the Quidditch field having the game of your life. For those short breathless minutes on “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey“, you feel like you are part of Harry Potter’s exhilarating, enchanting world.

I honestly never dreamed I’d be into a theme park yet our day spent at Orlando’s Universal Studios revived the imaginative child within me, and I enjoyed myself equally as much as my two kids. I’ve always been an avid reader and ever since my children were little, Harry Potter and his magical world has been a big part of our lives. My husband first read all seven brilliant books by J.K. Rowling to our son Max when he was just learning to read. Then, both kids read the entire series of books in one month flat inspiring me to pick up and read them too. After reading the first few pages of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone I was hooked and lavishly read the remaining books as fast as I could. 

Rowling’s phenomenal creation of the magical world of Harry Potter blows me away. I confess to once trying to write fiction but giving up after a year of roadblocks and frustration. Being a good writer is extremely hard yet Rowling has the gift. She is truly a genius! Not only has she created a wonderful collection of books, Harry Potter’s world has also made it to the big screen as well as theme parks for those who want a taste at the wizarding world.

Universal Studios Orlando

Sophia getting ready to enter Harry Potter’s Wizarding World

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter spans two theme parks – Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida – at the Universal Orlando Resort in Orlando, Florida. It opened in 2010 and has been greeting eager Potter enthusiasts ever since. Besides Harry Potter, Universal Studios also is home to several other themes including Marvel Studio Hero Island, Toon Lagoon, Jurassic Park, The Lost Continent, Seuss Landing, and the newly opened Skull Island. But for our family, we spent the majority of our time checking out Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade, truly our favorites. 

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The One and Only Magic Kingdom

There is no one place on earth more magical in the eyes of a child than Disney’s Magical Kingdom. Awash in a fantasy land of every princess, prince and famous Disney character and ride awaits a place that proudly earns the phrase “Where all your dreams come true”.

As an avid normally off the beaten path kind of traveler, Disney World is not exactly on the list. It is very crowded, very expensive and over the top. Yet, as we are passing through Orlando on our way South for a family cruise it was now or never.

I will be honest in admitting that I still remember my favorite rides from over 30 years ago when we drove all the way from Minnesota in our station wagon to Florida. So yes it must be true that in the eyes of a child Disney is pure, simple magic and one of a kind.










This post was inspired by the Weekly Photo Challenge: One. To see more entries click here.

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