Posts Tagged With: Christmas

Lovers Key State Park

If you are a regular reader of Stretchingittotravel you know we love activities that are low cost.  State parks are great places to visit due to their cheap cost and many activities.

We spent a few nights at Fort Myers Beach with the intention of visiting Lovers Key State Park.  We arrived around 9am Christmas morning to a rapidly filling parking lot.  Admission for the day is $8 a car and the park is open from 8am to sunset daily.

Lovers Key State Park

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We waited a bit for a trolley to drop us near the waterfront.  There was some confusion as to if the trolley ran on Christmas so we ended up walking the short path to the beach.

The park has well over two miles of beautiful sandy beaches to walk.  We walked from the boardwalk around to Big Carlos Bay by the bridge and back.  A nice clean, wide beach to explore.

Lovers Key State Park

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Later when the sun was really hot we walked the nature trail to view the canals.  The island was being developed to become a resort but sold to the state in the 1980s.

We saw many gopher turtles on our walk and their holes.

Lovers Key State Park

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There are opportunities to rent bikes, kayaks, and stand up paddle boards for use inside the park.  They also offer kayak tours and rent beach gear.

We spent most of our day relaxing at Lovers Key.  Relaxing by the ocean is one of my favorite ways to spend the day.

More information on Lovers Key can be found here:



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Everglades Airboat Tour

Over a few trips we have tossed around doing an airboat tour.  The family always thought it would be fun but generally I could not find one at a cost I was happy with. This is not the case in the Everglades.  Competition is fierce and prices are lower than any others we had seen to date.

I also could not chose between taking a grassland tour or mangrove tour.  Then I read about Captain Mitch’s tours.  They offer a tour that visits both on their property.


Captain Mitch’s Airboat Rides

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I was able to secure a reservation online a couple of weeks in advance of our December trip for an afternoon tour.  This location is just outside of Naples.

Captain Mitch’s

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Captain Mitch’s

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Our tour was so much fun!  We started out in the mangroves and ended up in the grassslands.  We saw a few gators, a gator nest and many birds.

Captain Mitch’s in mangroves

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Flying through the mangrove channels is a very unique experience.

Captain Mitch’s grassland

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The one hour tour is forty dollars for adults and twenty dollars per child.  There is also a coupon on the website for three dollars off per person.

After the airboat ride you can go inside the office and meet an alligator.  You can take pictures and hold it.  We had a great time and would love to ride again.

More information here:



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Swim with Manatees in Florida

I am going to ramble on about the amazing thing our little family just got to do in Florida.  I want to go back and do it again as soon as possible, it was that incredible!

While fishing in Florida a couple of years ago we had a mother and calf swim past our boat and surface near us.  I was pretty excited.  They are enormous gentle creatures.

This winter we planned to go back to Florida and spend some time lower on the Gulf Coast.  Husband wanted to see the Everglades and Daughter wanted a nice beach.  I had the plans all set, hotels booked and a shell of an itinerary.  We would be in Fort Myers Beach, Naples and end around St. Petersburg.

I stumbled on a trip review that said  you could swim with the manatees.

Then I watched a video on Facebook and was determined to make this work three weeks before we traveled.  I read up a little more on the tours and knew I wanted a 6am tour for the best luck.  A little more shuffling and I had our vacation plans reworked and found a reservation that I was thrilled about.

We were able to use points to stay at the Best Western in Crystal River.  The hotel was two minutes drive from the Birds Underwater Dive Center.  They offer a noon check out and they have a large hot tub for guests in the pool area.

To make this work we had a long drive from Lido Key the day before.  No matter how I worked this trip we had to cover more miles than I usually want to deal with on vacation.  We set out with the intent to try to break it up into smaller chunks, that really did not pan out for us. We did spend the afternoon in Homosassa State Park and saw many manatees in the river there, so I was really hopeful.

Then “winter” hit Florida.  When we left the Sarasota area it was a nice sunny almost 80 degrees.  It was a cold, cloudy and barely 60 in Homosassa when I got out of the car.

Birds underwater

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Fair Trade Friday December

I was eagerly awaiting my Fair Trade Friday December box this year and a little worried when the postal service tracking showed it in transit for several days.  On Tuesday afternoon my little box arrived.

Fair Trade Friday

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Yup, this month it was a box.

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Christkindlmarket Chicago Evening

I have wanted to visit the Christkindlmarket in Chicago for several years.  Somehow we never made to Chicago over the holidays.  Too much going on, too much snow, and too little time kept us from Chicago after Thanksgiving.  This year I was determined to make it to the Christmas market, it was the one thing I wanted to do on this visit.

We arrived in Chicago on a Friday evening just before the rain started.  We almost made it to the Radisson Blu (free Friday night stay thanks to their last fall promotion) when the heavens opened up.  Trying to crush through the crowd under the entry awning with luggage is no fun in the cold rain.

We enjoyed our room for a couple of hours and hit the business lounge for some snacking.  I was a little resigned that I was not going to be able to visit the Christmas market on Friday night. We were contemplating hitting the hot tub vs putting on pjs and ordering food.

Around 7:00 it looked like the rain was letting up.  By 7:15 I had convinced Daughter to put on the coat, hat and gloves to brave the weather.  The rain was down to a light drizzle as we walked to Daley Plaza past the window at Macy’s.

As negative as the weather seemed it was perfect for visiting the market.  The wind was not too bad in the plaza and the crowds were pretty small.

Christkindle Market Chicago

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Wander the Garden District

Christmas morning saw us with no concrete plans.  Old me would have had something booked, new me polls the family now.  The vote was to ride the street car to the garden district and poke around until we were bored.  I knew we needed the St. Charles line and our Free Tours by Foot guide had recommended boarding at the corner of Canal and Carondelet street.  Boarding there gave us the best chance to get a seat and not have to stand for the ride.  $3  a person gives you a 24 hour pass or $1.25 exact change each ride.

Canal street

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We rode the streetcar down to Washington Avenue. This would also be where you would want to exit for Commander’s Palace Restaurant.   Right across the street is Lafayette Cemetery.  Since it was a holiday the cemetery was closed but normal hours are 7-3pm daily.

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Tippecanoe Place Restaurant at Christmas

For part of our trip to the Oiver Mansion I wanted to include a lunch stop at Tippecanoe.  This home was the Studebaker Mansion before being turned into a restaurant in the 1980s. The Studebaker Mansion was finished in 1889 with approximately 40 rooms and 20 fireplaces.  This makes it a tad larger than the Oliver Mansion.


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The restaurant is beautifully decorated for the season and the smaller rooms would be perfect for a family party.

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Visiting the Oliver Mansion at Christmas

My Daughter and I enjoyed a tour of the Oliver Mansion called Copshaholm in October when we went to the Dressing Downton exhibit.  We really wanted to see this mansion decorated for Christmas.  The roads in the Midwest can be iffy at best in December but we lucked out and the snow changed to rain during our trip. The roads were not the best the whole time but we had safe travels.

We called ahead and were able to add our names to the 11am tour listing the day before.  I did not want to make the long drive and then not be able to tour the house.  You can do this by calling 574-235-9664 and speaking to the staff.

Oliver Mansion

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This time our tour began in the carriage house connected to the museum so we had very little time outside.

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Austin Trail of Lights

When we travel around Christmas I try to find holiday events to keep us in the Christmas spirit.  This year we attended Austin’s Trail of Lights.

We purchased our tickets off Groupon for $3 a person a couple of weeks before our trip.  Now there was no discount, it was the same price as buying them from the lights website but I did earn 4 Southwest points per dollar spent.  So 48 Southwest points towards our next trip, it all adds up!

Traffic getting to the park was horrendous so the taxi dropped us off about  two blocks out and we walked the rest of the way.  We could see the lights as we approached.  And also the horrendous line that stretched across the field to enter the lights.  Oy!

Luckily the huge line moved fast as we only had to turn our vouchers to enter.  Maybe we were in line for fifteen minutes max?  I had chosen Sunday night to visit thinking the lines would be shorter but I must have been off in that reasoning!


The lights were amazing.  It did not disappoint!

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Fair Trade Friday November 2015

It was recently my favorite day of the month.  Fair Trade Friday!  I love opening the mailbox to the white priority mailer that they use.   Lets see what this month had inside…

Fairtrade Friday Nov 15

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I could use a new clutch for church.  I hate to drag all my stuff with me and when I have time I quickly throw my wallet and phone into a clutch for church.

Fairtrade Friday Nov 2015

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I love the necklace.  I had seen something similar on the website but had not had the chance to order one yet.  The elephant ornament will go on our tree this year.  I love a Christmas tree that reflects the family who puts it up.  Ours is filled with travel mementos, crazy pictures in little frames and things that truly reflect our little families personalities.

I am looking forward to next months Fair Trade Friday shipment.  If you want to sign up for Fair Trade Friday or for more information go here:



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