Florida Vacation 2016...

We are blessed that both of our parents escape the midwest in the winter for warmer climates.  Scott's parents have a trailer in a 55+ community in Bradenton (on the gulf coast of FL) and my parents are renting for 6 weeks in Fountain Hills, AZ (my dad commutes from PA).  My parents gifted us tickets to see them for Christmas and since AZ is warmer than PA this time of year, we are going there!  Allegiant flies to Tampa and we snagged $150/person tickets back in November.  I tell Scott we have to return the favor someday and choose a tropical locale so our kids can come hang with us :).

We headed out Mid-February and the weather last year was ok but this year the stars aligned and the weather was beautiful, not a cloud in the sky and only one thunderstorm at 2am the night we arrived.

Our only objective was to enjoy the beach this trip.  Last year we fell in love with Anna Maria Island.  It had the beach town feel I love, just the right amount of shells for the kids and beautiful sand beaches not overly populated.  This year we learned more about the island and explored further spending 3/4 days there.  Ice cream and seafood are also a must and a pro is eating on the water outside.  Let's reminisce...

We traveled down on the afternoon/evening Monday.  Our flight was delayed but we knew we would just go straight to bed upon arrival so it wasn't awful that we were late.  The kids LOVE to travel so the day of travel is as fun for them as vacation.  We enjoyed watching the planes come and go, had a terminal picnic and some serious screen time with headphones on the airplane.

Packed up and ready to go -- we don't travel as light as we use to!
Funny story -- on Allegiant you pay for drinks (well our kids don't get that) so when the attendants came by Solon flips down his tray and when they asks what we would like to drink Solon says I'll take a sprite.  It was so cute I couldn't resist 1 $2 soda which we split 3 ways ;)!  He knows he can have soda on airplanes so he took advantage of that.

On the plane -- safety first
Lucy's first airplane ride (in her jammies!), she was like what is going on? She didn't make a fuss at all and slept most of the time!
Day 2: Mote Aquarium, Ice Cream at St. Armand's Circle and Swimming

Nana and Papa found a great aquarium on Lido Key they wanted to take the kids to.  We took a boat ride around the bay first and saw dolphins and lots of birds, neat sights and went under bridges and learned a lot about the area (like the bay is on average only 1-3 feet deep, what?)   Then they pulled a net and grabbed some real sea life to touch and observe.  It was a great experience.
On the boat and enjoying the sun

Happy baby in Nana's arms
Puffer fish we got to observe pulled up in a net on the boat 
 The kids loved seeing crabs and different sea urchins, plants and fish up close and the non-stinging, pinching varieties they got to touch too :)

After the boat ride we enjoyed a picnic lunch on the bay, the kids dipped their toes in and then we went and enjoyed the rest of the aquarium -- sea turtles, sharks, manatees, eels, stingrays we got to pet, and more.  It was awesome!

Admiring the sea turtles and manatees

 The kids also used their vacation spending money at the gift shop and each got a shark tooth necklace.  Solon opted for the working submarine toy and Vera picked a sea horse stuffed animal.  We got some postcards to take home to share with their classes too.  I love how they carefully select their souvenirs, they do a good job of being thankful and not asking the rest of the trip :).  Of course we were hungry after all that fun so we stopped at St. Armand's circle for some gelato on the square.  It was fun to explore a bit and enjoy the sun.
Then we headed back to Nana and Papa's and took advantage of their warm pool and swam while Nana cooked up a yummy seafood dinner.

After baths and dinner, it was time to hit the hay.  We had the beach the next 3 days and we couldn't wait :)

Day 2: Bradenton Beach, Anna Maria Island and Starfish Market

 We enjoyed flying kites, collecting seashells, burying Vera, and of course football on the beach along with a delicious picnic lunch all while relaxing and soaking up the sun!  We finished off the day at a repeat favorite from last year, The Starfish Market on the bay in Cortez.  It's busy so you have to wait, luckily we had the pelicans to watch!  More seafood - yum!

 Day 3:  Feeding the turtles, Bean Beach -- Anna Maria Island, Ice Cream and Date night

We walked down the street from Nana and Papa's and a sweet neighbor gave us some bread and a tip that the turtles like to be fed.  Sure enough, they swam right over.  We had never fed turtles before, there were all different types - some bigger, some small.  They all liked bread :).

After the picnic and car were packed, we decided to head north on Anna Maria Island to the tip called Bean Beach.  This beach wraps around from the gulf to the bay giving it expansive water views.  There is no parking lot or public bathrooms (rule of the lake applied ;) but street parking was easy to find and it made us feel like we were more local.  We packed everyone up and headed to make camp for the day -- it was the best kind of "groundhog day" repeating beach days.  More sand playing, surf jumping, relaxing, and picnicking!

Vera is a fellow bathing beauty! 

We had a little photo shoot, it was SO bright for V!
Sugar...beach and baby

It wouldn't be vacation without ice cream...
Date night!

That night we left the kids with Papa and Nana and headed out on a date!  YAY!  We went to a fancy dinner place on the bay where the boats cost  more than our home, had a cocktail and talked and then went back to St. Armand's Circle to grab a coffee and walk around a bit, do a little window shopping and enjoy the fresh, warm air.  All kids were fast asleep by the time we made it home and we enjoyed our alone time!

Day 4 -- Bean Beach, Anna Maria Island

We loved the quaint, local feel of Bean Beach so much, we chose to repeat it on our last full day in FL!  The weather was the best yet, with no find and nearly flat waves.  It was a perfect day to enjoy the cool water and just have fun as a family.  We took walks with the kids, found sand dollars and starfish,  and saw dolphins frolicking just a little ways from us (SO COOL!).
Our little flamingo...
Nana and Papa -- thanks for living here!

My love bugs!
We love the water...
Look dolphins!

Port Party of 5 
Dinner of the night -- Rod and Reel Pier (Anna Maria Island, bay-side)
And just like that it was time to pack up and get ready to head back to reality.  We absolutely LOVED our time in Florida and Anna Maria Island definitely stole our heart.  We will be back someday...

Day 5 -- Back to reality...

Our awesome EARLY morning travelers

 Allegiant doesn't offer many time/day options.  For the price, you take what you are offered.  Our flight took off at 7am, meaning we left Nana and Papa's at 4:15 to get to the airport to check in.  We got back to Iowa by 9am!  So we spend the rest of the day in a vacation coma and resting on the couch before plunging into unpacking and laundry!

It was a fabulous vacation, just the perfect amount of fun and relaxation.  The beach, in my opinion, is pretty hard to beat!