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Florida April 2017 - 09/04/17

If you are one of many 'fishing widows/widowers' I have written this post with you in mind.  Our most recent fishing adventure was to Islamorada, Miami, Florida when I accompanied Keith, our son Lee, and a friend, Hugh.  For anglers, you might like to skip this part and read Keith's post - follow the link below. 



Property: Angler's Reef, Mile Marker 84.9 on Highway 1, Islamorada, Florida booked through Hotels.com but check out the AR website before making a booking, it could save you loads of dollars.

Angler's Reef is a small exclusive development located on Route One which eventually takes you all the way down to Key West, the furthest point in this chain of linked islands.

The fishing party had booked with Jeff Pfeister of Dockside Charters www.docksidecharters.com which is within a short drive/walk of the property.  He's a reliable skipper and through experience, knew just where to find the fish they were after so they had a great time but what did I in the meantime!?

Well, this is a beautiful destination, a small oasis of palm trees and bougainvillea.  Located next to the ocean, there are approximate 30 immaculate Villas of varying levels of comfort and the properties on offer have just two bedrooms each and a sofa bed in the main living area.  I would say that it's best to have just four people if you want to be really comfortable.  Some villas have twin beds in one room, others, two Queens.  At a cost of £2090 for a week (£522ea) it's not the most expensive of properties in Islamorada and its location with its own small marina was idyllic.

The temperature at this time of the year (April) was around 30º C and most days, there was barely a cloud in the sky which meant that I could do one of the things I love best and that is to swim.  I didn't fancy the marina as it is alive with different species of fish (I saw a small barracuda) but there is a small heated pool with sunbeds, which looks out over the ocean.  For those with children I think it would be a good location although you would have to provide your own entertainment.  Though I didn't try this, there are kayaks in the grounds of the development but you would need to check out whether or not they are for hire. 

Access to the development is by gated entrance and I was sent a code prior to our departure by the MD of the letting agency.  And here is where we experienced what turned out to be a very stressful episode.

There is no site office on the development; this is located at Duck Key which is around an hour's drive further away.

Just two days before we were due to leave, I received an email from the MD advising me that the Villa booked and paid for (117) was no longer available but that they had upgraded us to a medium range Villa (136 - very nice!).  But beds were a problem so they offered to provide an inflatable mattress for my son!  Worn out from hard work, this was not an option and you can imagine my reaction.  The upshot was that unknown to us, the MD had changed us back to the original Villa (booked and paid for through Hotels.com) but I didn't pick up the email advising of the change!  I won't bore you with the knock-on effect but the result was that our son who was arriving the day after us was left standing at Miami airport waiting for us to collect him because his message of arrival time was left in the wrong Villa.  Nightmare - he missed his first day's fishing and the taxi ride to MM 84.9 is 250$.  It almost ruined my holiday but thankfully, the peace and quiet at this location had a calming effect - or, as suggested by Hugh, that could have been down to the fact that Keith was fishing for most of the week and I didn't see much of them!

Personally, I find the lack of cultural activities in Islamorada a real disadvantage because I need something to do on my own whilst our hunters are out catching our supper!  That's a problem for me - others might not mind.  But what I did enjoy was our visit to two State Parks (incredibly inexpensive) with our birding expert companion Hugh; eating breakfast in the morning sun at Robbie's, The Hungry Tarpon; shopping for groceries at Winn Dixie (around 7 miles from our location - I always like to cook local produce and each Villa has a fully fitted kitchen) and joining the blokes on a fishing trip on the reef. 

I do like seeing the different species of fish and this time they were catching our supper which was filleted by skipper Jeff and taken to Lazy Days where for a fee, they cooked the meal for us.  The price for doing this is 16 dollars each, but when we paid the bill, it had spiralled to 200 dollars, including the tip stated on the bill!  Still, it was a good experience as the restaurant is close to the property, is ocean side and you can eat your meal on the beach if weather permits or on the enclosed balcony. (Writing of permits - check out Lee's fish on Keith's post - fabulous!)

This is the fifth time I've been to Islamorada so when you've visited the usual tourist attractions (Theatre of the Sea is within metres of the property) you can run out of easily accessible things to do (The Everglades are off the approach Route One so if planning a trip there, you might want to do that on arrival and maybe check into a Hotel for a night).  There are several attractions to visit and for those with children, Disney is around a 6 hour drive away from Miami, so plan your trip well ahead.

All in all, I have some good memories, some lovely photos and a nice sun tan.  If you're looking to chill out and escape grey wet days in the UK, I can recommend this location which is also child-friendly but before you go, the following is a list of tips relevant if you haven't visited Islamorada before.  I hope they help smooth the route to Angler's Reef, Islamorada.  Enjoy.

For a stress-less vacation think about the following:

1.         KEY ADVICE - pre-travel - you will need an ESTA and can complete this online https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/.  Do so with great care - the smallest error will result in you not being allowed to fly to your destination.  Check it, check it, check it again for accuracy and when you've done this get a fresh pair of eyes to check it again or rue the consequences.  (For Canada you need the equivalent which is an ETA).  Other countries, check with the Embassies.

2.         We flew with KLM from Heathrow Airport and their customer service was exemplary.   I was distraught when our son was not allowed to fly with us because there was an error on his ESTA.  Three members of staff on the help desk did just that.  It's possible to reapply for a new ESTA but this can take from 1 - 72 hours to receive.  In our case, unfortunately, the computer system was down so our son's new ESTA arrived just half an hour after our departure.  There is a Home Security desk at Terminal 3 (transport in between terminals is free) and they did their best to help.  KLM were amazing - they saw my distress and booked our son onto the next flight via Paris, without charge!  I cannot thank them enough and would definitely fly with them again.

They did say that problems with ESTA's are an almost daily occurrence with inexperienced travellers arriving for flights without the document.  Don't do it - when completed, check it for accuracy as the upshot is - your dream holiday could be in ruins.  KLM saved the day for us and all ended well!  Also, the flight from Heathrow was via Amsterdam and takes around 10 hours but if you check your luggage through to Miami, the change over is no problem, plus the fact that the cost was substantially less - around £460 per person as opposed to £650 with BA, not only did KLM staff save our holiday, our pockets benefited too!  (It's often cheaper to travel via another airport).

Well, that's enough of that dire warning.  Here are a few more.

3.         CAR HIRE - Use a reputable company.  Unfortunately, we'd booked and paid for a Jeep through BUDGET, Miami Airport.  At a cost of around £270, we'd included the additional insurance cover, vital in case you have a bump (heaven forbid).  We were in Canada once and our car was broken into - because we didn't have excess cover - it cost us £1000!

So, imagine arriving late evening after our earlier experience and having to stand in a queue for around 2½ hours because BUDGET's  car processing system wasn't working!  Nought out of ten for organisational skills!  When we eventually got to the desk, we were told our car booked and paid for in the UK still wasn't ready and we were offered a pick-up truck! 

Also, check out the size of the vehicle well ahead - we'd chosen a medium range car but it wasn't big enough to take four adults with four cases.  Also, hire a Satnav but prepare for your journey by having a location map.  Coming out of Miami Airport has always been a nightmare and currently, there road works as they try to improve access; however, Satnav sent us from one lane to another within seconds of each instruction; we reached our destination without incident but it was the early hours of the morning so little traffic on the highway.  Once you're on Route One it is just that - a straight road through to Key West.

(When you get back home - check your credit card - we had an additional £136 billed to us by BUDGET, which we are disputing.  You need to return your vehicle with a full tank otherwise you'll be penalised.  They also have a relatively new method of number plate recognition for when you pass through what was previously a toll booth.  This is an easier method of paying the toll but I sincerely hope it didn't amount to £136!)

There is a bus service from the airport but check out the route, cost and operating hours; this was not available in the evening.  There is a booking desk at the airport but this is something you need to look into well ahead of your journey.

Finally, when picking up your pre-booked car you will need your driver's licence (both parts) and that of any named drivers; your booking confirmation and the card with which you paid.  If you've used someone else's card to pay for the hire, they will need to be there with their ID and ... take out the excess!  (Satnav is an additional charge - map might be better!)

4.         ACCOMMODATION -  If staying at Angler's Reef, check your email before you fly.  The Villas are privately owned and if the owners want to use theirs when you've booked and paid for your accommodation - well ... it's a stressor you don't need!!

5.         PRE-TRAVEL - DEPOSITS - check out HiFX as they may give you better rates for transfers and competitive rates for currency.

6.         EATING WELL - If self-catering (eating out can be very expensive) shop at Winn Dixie for groceries - that way, you can eat well for less and enjoy trying out new foods.  Wine is available there but if you want the hard stuff, you will need to find a liquor store for your G & T. Check out the Mile Marker for location - these are an incredibly useful for finding your way around.

7.         TIPS ARE EXTRA and most bills will have their suggested amount printed on the bottom of the receipt - they are expected as it is the only way that some employees can earn a wage so whilst it goes against the grain for me to tip unless the service has been good, just make sure you budget for that.  Prices displayed also have taxes added and these are obligatory so what seems like a good deal on your purchase may not work out that way.

8.         FISHING - If you're planning a fishing trip and organising travel yourself, there's a lot to think about, especially if you're taking family and friends along and I hope the above will be of help to novice travellers.  Check out what licences are needed for your fishing trips. In Florida, charter skippers normally have licences to cover paying customers, but if you fish on your own in salt or fresh water you WILL need a licence available on https://gooutdoorsflorida.com   Don't fish without one! - see Keith's post for more details on the angling.  The other golden rule is to research your skipper. The fishing will only be as good as the skipper you chose so read up well and if you know someone who has been, talk to them. The best skippers are like gold dust and may not always be the ones with the high profiles. Jeff, the one we use is typical, as Tarpon are best caught at night and few skippers are capable of doing this. The more time you spend researching this the better. The rate per trip is around $600US so across three people, the costs are reasonable.

Finally, if the above sounds too exhausting, you could try a package deal which may be more expensive, doesn't give you everything you want, and may not be as much fun!  Don't forget, if you want to know more about the types of fishing you can do, then read Keith's diary entry on the following link https://www.riverreads.co.uk/p-26533-tarpon-fishing-in-islamorada-florida-keys.aspx.  Happy fishing holidays from a very patient fishing widow!

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