You’d think after so many years together, Pat would know better than to leave me unsupervised with vacation planning. Apparently, he still hasn’t learned that lesson. Or maybe he secretly enjoys when I book things at 10:30pm and then he finds out about it the next morning.
This was one of those things.
One night about a month before our Costa Rica trip, he was tired and went to bed early, and I stayed up and happened to notice on our wall map that Miami is reasonably close to the Everglades and Biscayne National Parks. I knew we had an extended layover on our way home from Costa Rica, so I figured we might as well make the most of it.
And then, well, this happened.
We didn’t actually end up going to the Everglades or Biscayne – the former because I didn’t want to pay the $25 entry fee to spend only a couple hours there and the latter because it’s mostly water and we don’t have a boat.
But a bit of research uncovered a little gem called Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park. It’s on Key Biscayne, a barrier island located about 15 miles (24 km) from the airport, the entry fee was only $8, and seemed like a great place to pass the time. So I found us a deal on a rental car and booked it!
Fast forward a few weeks, and our plane home from Costa Rica touched down in Miami, thus beginning our marathon layover.
Hour 1: De-planed (I will never understand how it takes people so long to get off a plane) and promptly found ourselves in a very long line. It moved surprisingly quickly, though. I mean, it still took us a solid hour to get all the way through customs and immigration and retrieving our checked luggage, but given the number of people in front of us it was a pretty quick process.
Hour 2: Quickly slathered on sunscreen, and – after some difficulty locating the correct booth – picked up our rental car. One thing Expedia didn’t mention when I booked the car is that there are tolls everywhere in Miami, so we had no choice but to pay $10 to activate the SunPass toll thingy in the car, because they don’t accept cash. We didn’t have to pay the actual tolls, it just charged straight to the activated pass – but we also didn’t come anywhere close to $10 worth of tolls, so that was a bit annoying.
Hour 3: Made it out to the state park after about a 35-minute drive from the airport. We paid the $8, parked in as much shade as we could find, grabbed water and Clif bars, and headed off to explore.
Hour 4: Wandered out to the ocean side of the island, past the lighthouse and along the paved walkway lined with informational signs. The sun was hot but the breeze kept us cool as we wandered down and around the end of the island, stopping to admire the views and point out the various lizards. Ominous clouds rolled by in the distance, but we never actually got rained on.
Hour 5: Wandered back towards the car, making a detour to the beach. We also made a short detour to the inland side of the island hoping to catch a glimpse of Miami back across the water, but bushes blocked our attempted view.
Hour 6: Drove back to the airport. Traffic was picking up now; even though we missed the worst of it, it still took about an extra 15-20 minutes to get back.
Hour 7: Returned our car, took the sky tram back to the terminal from the rental car area, and proceeded to stand in a very short, extremely slow-moving line for security. Customs may have been a fairly efficient process, but security was absolutely not. It took 40 minutes to get through, and there were maybe 40 people in front of us. I felt bad for the people who (probably) ended up missing their flight because the airline lost their luggage and then the damn line was moving so slowly. I did not feel bad for the people behind us who missed their flight because they were too irresponsible to get to the airport on time and were laughing about how many times this has happened to them.
Hour 8: Finally made it through security and grabbed a quick dinner before heading to our gate. Flight began boarding on time, but no sooner did Pat and I sit down than the flight attendants came on the speaker and announced that there was an issue with the plane and we all needed to get off and walk to a new gate. A few people were being overly dramatic but it’s obviously much better to find the issue while on the ground than in midair.
Hour 9: Walked to our new gate and sat down only to find we were being moved yet again. Third plane is the charm, I guess? We were now at least an hour behind schedule by the time we all de-planed and walked and then walked again. The Miami airport is not small.
Hour 10: Boarded our new (functional!) plane and were all ready to go. Except for the luggage. So we sat there for about 20 minutes while they finished loading suitcases. Two hours late, we finally departed Miami, en route to a 12:30am arrival in Connecticut. I had to teach at 9am and Pat had to be at school by 8am so the following morning was fun.
Definitely the downside to having a long layover is that we were awake for 21 hours straight, though we did manage some light napping on the plane.
The upside to having a long layover: getting to explore a new place, however briefly. I might actually start using this strategy more. Miami isn’t a place I ever would have picked for a vacation destination – cities just aren’t usually my thing – but this way we got to catch a glimpse.
And the beach was gorgeous, so who knows? Maybe we’ll end up returning one day!