4:45 a.m. Saturday, April 14, 2018: My alarm went off. If this were most Saturdays, I would have turned it off, wondered why I set it and fell back asleep.
Not this Saturday, though, I had a plan. An all-day kind of plan. I was going to Florida.
And coming back to the same bed that night.
It was 2014. My cousin, Michael Valania, was on a Delta flight from Southern California to State College, PA. He and the person he was traveling with were asked to be moved to a later flight to make room for other passengers. A $400 travel voucher was in it for them. They took the deal. A few weeks later, EvaMarie, Michael and I were all at a family function. He was telling us the story.
On hearing about the travel voucher, I quipped, “You should go to Bermuda for the day.” We all laughed.
It was a joke that never let go. For two years we half jokingly, half seriously said we should fly somewhere for the day. About two years ago, once EvaMarie flew Spirit Airlines for the first time, she said it could probably be done for cheap. Fast forward to August. I was offered the job at The Press, conveniently located near Atlantic City International Airport, home to Spirit. We were going.
We laid out the ground rules. It had to be done in one day and stay under $100 round trip, total. Luckily, we had no need for anything larger than a backpack, free on Spirit, and I bought the tickets at the counter, which saves you $38 (a nice Spirit hack).
So, there I was March 2 at the ticket counter. Two tickets, round trip between ACY and FLL (Fort Lauderdale), $82 per person.
Departing ACY: 7 a.m. Departing FLL: 9:30 p.m.
4:45 a.m., April 14: I woke up, got up and prepared for the day. EvaMarie met me about 5:15 a.m. and we drove to the airport. It was a pretty mild morning, so all we brought sweatshirts for the airport; I wore mine on top of my tank top. I wore a bathing suit. I was going to be on the beach in a few hours after all. We breezed through security. Well, except for having to be patted down at security; that’s another story.
We waited around the gate for an hour. I’m a big fan of the airport, so every minute was enjoyable. We then hopped on the plane and off we went. The views of the Cape are something else from the sky. You can pick out each town along the way. We left the Cape and went out over the Atlantic.
About 9:30 a.m., we came back from over the Atlantic and landed in sunny Florida. There’s just something about how green Florida is, it’s so lush compared with Jersey, especially when you see all the pools and palm trees. However, I still think we have the better beaches. We hopped out of the terminal and felt the warm and humid air outside. Felt like the beach to us! We requested an Uber and off to the Fort Lauderdale beach we went.
It didn’t feel different yet, even though we were saying how amazing this was. We made it to the beach about 10:15 a.m. People were out, the palm trees were gently blowing in the wind and the beach was filling up. We walked on (for free of course, no badge checkers here) and just hung out. Felt like any other beach day, though many people were already deep into their tans by this time of the year.
We swam in the water. It wasn’t that Florida bathwater yet, but the water felt like a day in August or September, very mild. To be clear, it was warm in South Jersey too, we set a daily record at ACY with a high of 82 degrees. However, it wasn’t beach weather, we have that stubborn spring sea breeze.
Hungry from the long morning, we ate lunch at a place EvaMarie had been to before, Coconuts. We sat at the outdoor bar. Now we were feeling far away from home. I had the alligator ribs, which I recommend. When in Rome, right?
Then we made our way to the BahiaMar and Sea Experience, where we both did our first snorkeling. We got our tickets and rode out through the marina. Turns out, we were in the same waters where the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show is held, so it was quite the ritzy area. We passed the boat of Dana White, the president of UFC, and Shaquille O’Neal’s house, among many others. We had a water-gun fight with another boat. We had three foam super soakers. I volunteered to man one. They had water guns bolted into their boat. Let’s just say we tried valiantly.
Once we hit the open water, the water was a clear blue. The captain and first mate were genuinely impressed. We even stopped our trip a little early because they found a beautiful spot to set anchor in.
So in we went for the first time. Schools of fish were everywhere, and you could see straight down the 10 or 20 feet to the bottom as we bobbed up and down in the choppy water. We had an hour out in the water, in April, in Florida, for the day. Wow, we are here, no doubt about it.
On the way back we were talking to the first mate, a man with surfer blond hair about 35 years old who had spent a dozen years in the Army. He was from Iowa but made his way down to Florida after returning home.
“Where are you guys from?” he asked
“New Jersey. We’re leaving tonight and wanted to come snorkeling.” I replied.
“Oh, that’s great. When did you get here?” he wanted to know.
“This morning,” EvaMarie said cheerily.
A few heads turned in bewilderment.
“You’re here for the day?! That’s freaking cool,” he said.
We thought so.
After we returned to land, it was back to the beach for a little bit. Fort Lauderdale Beach Park is a really cool spot to spend the day. It has basketball, tennis and volleyball courts. Grills are peppered throughout the park, and many people were taking in the 85 degree, mostly sunny weather. We strolled around and listened to the music pumping through visitors’ speakers and the snapping crackles of the grills.
As the sun started to fade behind the buildings, we grabbed dinner at the Drunken Taco. We settled ourselves in among the mostly college crowd. A couple of appetizers and drinks later, we paid and made our trek back. Our time in Florida was nearly up. We Ubered back to the airport, which featured another storytelling to the driver. He said he had never picked up someone who was in Florida for the day before.
Just as the sun was about to set, we took a picture outside the airport and said good-bye to the palm trees. We’ll see the imported ones during the summer at the Jersey Shore. We breezed through security again (Philly International or Newark isn’t like this). 9:30 p.m. came. We took off and headed back north.
The lady next to us was on a connecting flight back from Cancun. She was from Philadelphia, but figured she’d spent the night at The Pool After Dark and just booked a hotel room to sleep in when she got there. Looked like she’d have a little story of her own.
At 11:54 p.m. we were back in Jersey. EvaMarie and I just looked at each other and chuckled. We did it. We walked back to my car, paid the parking fee ($13 for the day) and went back to my apartment. We unwound and around 1:30 a.m., I was about to go to sleep. My head hit the pillow, I knew we had been in Florida but my body didn’t want to believe it. My first thought: Four years later, we did it.
I believe EvaMarie put it best:
“The idea of traveling somewhere that seems so far away for just one day was such an exciting concept that it had to be done! It was a fun adventure, and I’d do it again. I’d highly recommend it. Flying and security was easy, the beach is close and it didn’t cost any more than a fancy date night out.”