Sunday, May 15, 2016

Fort Lauderdale Power Weekend – Day 3

I begin our last day in Fort Lauderdale with a big early morning walk, but this time I bring Magnus along with me. It is another gorgeous morning, but the street are much busier as all the working people are up and getting themselves to work – poor sods. We wander and explore for an hour and then return to the room to get the ladyfolk moving so we can go for breakfast. Surprisingly they are up and into an advanced stage of the morning preparation routine - Stella even has a lovely French braid in her hair. Once everybody is ready to go we walk over to La Bonne Crepe, which is a restaurant Magnus and I noticed during our walk.

As we are browsing the menus I see there are kid's sizes available on the regular meals so I ask the server, "How large are the kid-sized meals?"

"The regular crepes are three bites and the kid's ones are half that size," she replies in a thick, Eastern European accent.

Three bites, I think to myself, that doesn't sound like much so I tell the kids to order the regular meal. Two large plates soon arrive, and each of them are overcome with three gigantic crepes, rammed full of fruit and Nutella and blanketed with a layer of chocolate sauce, syrup and icing sugar. Their eyes light up and I'm thinking we're going to need to do some extra walking today. I have no idea what that "three bite" nonsense was about – not even Mick Jagger or that singer from Aerosmith could do one of these babies in one bite.

After brekkie we walk over to the canal to take a short, free boat tour that is offered by the city. Though it is only a 30 minute round trip, we get a great glimpse into the canal system. We pass beneath several bridges – one of them which has two huge resident iguanas sunning themselves on the hot metal. On the south side of the canal are mainly businesses, hotels, shops and office buildings while on the north side are many private residences and a few small commercial building. There are also many docks with sail and power boats and the tour guide tells us the docks are all owned and managed by the city and there are many boaters who rent a slip for the entire winter season.

After the boat trip we get the car and drive west towards the Swap Shop – one of hundreds of giant flea markets that Florida is famous for. As we approach we see two giant flags and numerous huge drive-in movie screens. In fact, we discover that the Swap Shop has 14 screens and they show movies every night! And I thought drive-ins were dead.

As we are here on a Monday, the market is not busy at all and there are only a small number of vendors. I'm told by a staff member that the market on the weekends is absolutely mental, so I am glad we saved it for today. Most of the vendors in the open air part of the market seem to have pulled up in thirty year old cargo vans and simply dumped everything out onto the ground in the hopes somebody will buy something. To me, most of the stuff is worthy of being loaded into a big garbage truck and dumped into the nearest rubbish heap, but I suppose one man's trash is another's treasure. Magnus and I continue into the covered part of the market, which is a series of connected buildings, and the first thing we find is an exotic car museum, with some very expensive race cars and little information displays shwoing the history and specs of each vehicle. The rest of the building has vendors selling everything from jewellery to t-shirts to weaponry. Magnus wants to buy some throwing stars, swords and a set of real nunchuks, but I crush his dreams when I tell him we are not actually flying back on the private jet where you can take whatever you want on the plane and, unless he thinks he can sneak it through airport security, this weaponry will only end up being seized. I think he miscalculated his purchasing power anyway because he only has ten bucks, so he decides instead to invest five of it into tokens for the huge video game arcade that we find in another section of the building. The girls soon find us and we take off, but I am thinking that I'd love to return for a drive-in movie the next time we are here.

During the morning boat trip the guide told us of a nearby power plant where you can often see manatees basking themselves in the warm water output from the pumps. So we find the power plant on the GPS and start driving. It is just south of Fort Lauderdale, but since we don’t know exactly where this viewing platform is we drive around for a while on service roads, but we eventually find ourselves back on a highway and driving into what looks like the guarded entrance of the cruise ship port. We pull up to one of the gates and an officer asks us where we are going. We tell him in dopey tourist fashion that we're trying to find the manatees. He tells us it has been off limits to the public for nearly fifteen years. I guess the boat guide hadn't been here for a while.

Instead, we drive over to a nearby mall. So far this trip, I have gotten off extremely lucky and haven't had to sit in the car or on a bench even once waiting for the rest of the family to explore a mall, so I think they deserve a retail excursion. As they walk over to the T.J. Maxx I spot a store called Total Wines and since alcohol is pretty much the only thing I enjoy shopping for I go there. Well oh boy, am I glad I did. This place is heaven for booze hounds. There is row after row of bottles and cans stacked up higher than I can see, never mind reach. I track down a staff member and ask him how many different brands they carry. He tells me they have over 8000 types of wine, 2500 types of beer and 3000 types of spirits. And that, as far as they know, they carry every kind of beer made in the US. All I can think to say is, "I a luvva dis country!" I am so excited that I run over to get the rest of the gang and drag them back to experience the greatest store in the world. They are maybe not as thrilled as me, but are definitely impressed with the scale of the place. Ana finds three of my favourite beers (incredibly, they are located right next to each other on a shelf) and I buy a Kalik, a Presidente, a Beer Lau and a Radler for Ana.

We then proceed to a grocery store to pick up some supplies for a picnic lunch, which we decide to have back at the hotel pool, and we also buy a large bag of ice and shove our beers right into the bag – an instant low budget cooler. We do the short drive back to the hotel and, even though we had already checked out in the morning, the hotel had kindly left us with a key that gave us access to the pool area. So we spread out all our gear and sit down for an excellent, slow lunch. And though there were many, many things left to do and see in Fort Lauderdale, we decide to spend the remainder of the afternoon lounging in the pool and soaking up as much sun as possible before our encroaching return trip to chilly Canada. And that was an excellent decision. We lounge in the poolside chairs, reading magazines. We swim with the kids and play games in the pool. We watch the iguanas crawling around the poolside deck like they owned the place. We talk about life. We watch the boats go by. We all sit together on the dock, enjoying this time together as a family and feeling very privileged indeed.

Ana and I sometimes talk about retirement and what that will mean for us. To me, I don't think retirement will be that much different than what we do now. We have been taking "mini-retirements" the whole time we've been together, from a year-long backpacking trip around the world, to a 10 week adventure around Southeast Asia with the kids, and even the shorter 1 and 2 week vacations we've done to so many countries and the incredible sailing adventures we've had on the Great Lakes. Besides that, every year we do at least a couple of Power Weekends to interesting places in the US and Canada. Outside of vacations, we both have jobs we like that give us a great sense of purpose and opportunity to make things better, a great social circle, and an amazing and supportive extended family, who themselves live all over the world. How can retirement be any better than this? We've seen what a classic retirement looks like. BORING! And yet this is what many people strive for as they grind through each working day doing jobs they hate, watching the calendar and counting down the days to that magic retirement. The only thing retirement will probably change for us is we will be less tied down to a particular home. But I expect we will be both be working in part time, remote, contract or even volunteer jobs, but we'll just find them in interesting places that will give us opportunities to explore and travel even more.

Within an hour or two we will be packing up and heading to the airport for our trip home, and by 2am we should be back in our own beds catching a bit of sleep before work and school tomorrow. But as I sit on the dock, surrounded by my favourite people, feeling the sun on my face and my wife's hand in mine, all I can think to myself is…
Life is grand indeed.

Fort Lauderdale Power Weekend – Day 2

I wake up just as the sun is rising and quietly sneak out of the room for a morning walk. The temperature is lovely and the streets are incredibly quiet as it is Sunday morning and there is nothing open. I walk eastwards down Las Olas, stopping to look through the windows of a few shops and to admire the many boats that are docked in the canals. I always love going for early morning walks when we are visiting a new place as a city or town looks, feels and smells very different when it is just waking up.

I return to the room to find everybody up, showered, dressed and ready to go. Ha, in my dreams! The kids are still sleeping, but Ana does have a towel wrapped around her head which is a sign of some progress. I entertain myself with a magazine and the US news channels while the troops get organized, and before too long we are in the car and following our phone's directions to the nearest Denny's for a quick breakfast stop before continuing onto Miami. The Denny's breakfast is simply horrible, from the cold and stringy hash browns, to the gluey pancakes, to the flimsy coffee, to the tasteless eggs, to the lipstick-stained cups. But it will certainly fill the gap for a while.

We head south on highway 1, taking the slower but more scenic route instead of the major interstate I-95. It is a simply gorgeous day, and we plan on packing in as much as humanly possible. Our first stop is the Wynwood district of Miami, which has become known as the arts hub of south Florida. Previously a run down warehousing district, this area is now packed with art galleries and inhabited by the self proclaimed "creative class" - entrepreneurs, artists, renegades, and hipsters of all shapes and colours. Because it is early Sunday morning though, all the funksters are sleeping off the funky cold medinas and magical herbs consumed the previous night, so we have the whole neighbourhood to ourselves and can explore the amazing graffiti art and murals that decorate nearly every building at our leisure.

The images are huge and mesmerizing. We see a giant seal split in half exposing its spine with blood dripping down the wall. There is a thousand foot train painted on a building which runs alongside an actual train track. There are images of faces everywhere, some recognizable such as Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimmy Hendrix, and others of people who may just exist in the artist's imagination. We pass by many galleries – all of which are closed – but most of them have art installations right on the street. It is inspiring to see so much life brought back to what was undoubtedly a dead, industrial district not so many years ago.

The next stop on our day trip is to Miami Beach, a series of natural and man-made islands physically separated from Miami by Biscayne Bay but connected by several bridges. It is famous for its pristine beaches, party scene, arts and culture events, LGBT community, Art Deco district, and Crockett and Tubbs racing around on their power boat chasing drug dealers.

As we are driving towards South Beach we come across an outdoor market and stop for a look. There are hundreds of street vendors selling everything from antiques to clothing to knick-knacks to food and drinks so we take our time and wander around browsing through the offerings. As I’m not known as much of a shopper, I soon find three nice wooden antique chairs and sit down with the kids to do some people watching. During the drive here Ana made the mistake of telling Stella she saw a photo of Katy Perry on South Beach the week before. Stella asked excitedly, "So do you think she will still be there?"

"I doubt it," Ana replied.

"But it's possible, right?"

"I suppose so."

"So would you say there's a 10% chance?"

"Stella, how am I supposed to know where Katy Perry is? I have no idea."

That was good enough for Stella. I could sense her brain working this through and the result was that that she was fully expecting to find Katy Perry, Pitbull, Sia and Bruno Mars doing an impromptu show for us on the beach. Having arrived in South Beach, she keeps asking me where the famous people are. I tell her to just pay attention to all the people walking around and she might get lucky and recognize somebody. So we sit there creeping the crowd and, although we don't notice anybody famous, we do see all sorts of interesting characters, including a homeless dude carrying a sign that reads, "Need money to buy weed". We also see an older gentleman walking by and as he approaches the boulevard he trips on something, loses his footing, and tumbles to the ground, fortunately on top of a bunch of mulch and plants so he doesn't hurt himself. Magnus turns to me and says, "Dad, why do old people always fall in slow motion?"

"Do they? I guess I've never really noticed," I reply.

"Yep, it always takes them a while to hit the ground. When I fall I just splatter," he explains.

Ana returns with a new purse in hand and tells us a story of her own. As she was browsing through handbags at one of the vendor stalls, a black gentleman slowly walked over, browsed for a few seconds, and then grabbed a purse and started running. Fortunately, there was a beat cop nearby who noticed the fleeing suspect and grabbed him. The man threw up his hands and said, "No, I didn't steal it, that's my stall, I work there!" The lady who was actually working the stall noticed all the commotion and hurried over there, telling the cop that the "thief" was indeed her brother and was just goofing around. Meanwhile Ana is standing there flabbergasted, wondering what's going on. The man returns and says to Ana, "Why didn't you try to stop me?"

"What?" she replies, "I didn't know you were going to take a purse, by the time I noticed what was going on you were running. Why were you stealing your own purse?"

"Just trying to get a rise out of you, it was getting boring around here. Good think I didn't get arrested."

We decide it's time to hit the beach so we cruise over to Ocean Drive, find a parking spot and walk to the ocean. The beach is, of course, beautiful and busy and we find a nice spot to set up base and spend two hours swimming and sunning ourselves until our skin begins to show signs of crispiness. To Stella's disappointment we didn't notice any pop stars or celebrities, though I'm sure there were one or two there somewhere disguised with dark glasses and sun hats.

We pack up our sandy gear, shake it off, return to the car and do a cruise up Ocean Drive to see all the Art Deco buildings and then continue onto to an Outback Steakhouse north of Miami. This is the first time we have been to an Outback for lunch, and also the first time an Outback hasn't been completely packed where you end up standing around in the entrance with one of those little restaurant pagers for what seems like hours. Lunch is fantastic and the air conditioning is very refreshing on the skin.

We continue along to the Hallandale Beach area to get a better look at an unbelievable sight we saw from the highway on the way here – a giant bronze statue of Pegasus battling a dragon. It is located in the Gulfstream Park which hosts a racetrack, casino and huge shopping mall. The statue is simply mind blowing, and seems like it was transplanted from Las Vegas to south Florida. Sadly, we can't get very close to it as it is enclosed by a gate and fence, but we are able to take a few photos. I find out later that it is 110 feet tall, cost $30 million to build, and the dragon blows actual fireballs!

We do the short drive back to our hotel and take a leisurely, long walk along Las Olas Boulevard. We stop into several of the galleries to see the art and explore many of the shops and boutiques. I notice a utility box hanging off a pole that has been artfully decorated making it an intriguing piece of public art instead of an ugly grey chunk of metal obscuring the view. I love it. It reminds me that even though cities need to have utility boxes, transformer panels, poles and garbage bins, it doesn't mean we must blindly accept them being ugly.

We decide it would be a nice time for an end of day swim so we walk back to the hotel, get changed, and have the pool pretty much to ourselves. The hotel pool is right beside one of the main waterways so Ana and I slip out the back gate and sit down on the dock to watch the boats go by. I remembered to grab a couple of beers from the fridge in the room, as well as a cigar, so I spark one up and we enjoy a drink together. At this moment I feel so unbelievably happy. It is lusciously warm outside, I have a hot babe at my side, ocean water beneath my feet, two amazing children splashing around in the pool, million dollar yachts passing by, a cold bottle of Presidente in one hand and a meaty Partagas cigar in the other. Holy shit, I'm not just pretending to be a rock star, I AM a rock star!

We sit there for a very long time enjoying the scene and watching the day turn to night. By now the effects of the giant steak lunch are wearing off so we decide to go out for a snack. There are dozens of restaurants to choose from, but we simply walk across the street to the closest one with an outdoor patio, called the Big City Tavern, and order up a couple of plates to share. There is a steady stream of cars slowly crawling through the congested street, and among them are Ferraris, Rolls-Royces, Bentleys, Porsches and even a McLaren. We have a leisurely meal and only decide to leave when we could see Stella struggling to keep her eyes open. But considering it's nearly 11pm and we've been going hard all day, she has done remarkably well. Magnus, of course, is wide awake. We walk back to our room and put the wraps on day two of our Power Weekend.

Fort Lauderdale Power Weekend – Day 1

"OK kids, there's something we have to tell you," I said to Magnus and Stella one Tuesday afternoon as we were relaxing at home after an exceptionally average day. "We are taking a private jet down to Fort Lauderdale for the weekend!"

Magnus's face lit up and the smile stretched from ear to ear, threatening to extend further, as the possibilities began clanking around in his brain. Stella looked panicked and asked, "Do I have to miss any school?"

"Yes, we are flying back on Monday night so you will miss that day," Ana replied.

"Monday??" she screeched, now giggling uncontrollably and bouncing up and down. "I don’t even care about Mondays!" Stella attends an enrichment program on Mondays and it is her least favourite day of the week so for the first time in her life, she was actually happy to be missing school.

Now how does one get the opportunity to fly on a private jet? Even now, I’m not entirely sure how it all came together. Through one of Ana's colleagues Yvonne I was offered the chance to write a few articles for the in-flight magazine of a small, executive airline charter company called Charter Air Transportation Services (CATS). As we were discussing the topics of the articles, the chief operating officer Kevin contacted Yvonne to ask if we would be interested in a one way trip down to Fort Lauderdale, as he had an empty plane going there to pick up some clients. When Ana called me and told me this I checked my calendar to see if it was April 1st, but seeing it was already the 16th I simply assumed she was having a slow day and wanted to torture me for fun. Once I realized she was serious, it took exactly one second to decide to go!

Ana found us a great deal on a hotel and rental car and got in contact with their manager of flight coordination Josh to arrange the itinerary. Besides allowing us to choose the time we wanted to depart, he also offered help in arranging airport transportation, accommodations and even asked us if there were any particular drinks or snacks we wanted them to have available for us in the cabin. Now Josh must have known we were imposters when we did not ask for Beluga caviar, Russian blini and Dom Perignon, but we really didn't want to push our luck. We also asked him how far in advance of our departure time we would need to arrive at the executive terminal of the Pearson airport in Toronto. He casually replied, "10 minutes is plenty."

We arrive at the Skyservice Business Aviation terminal in Toronto shortly before 8am on Saturday morning. We walk into a small, quiet, luxurious terminal and the first thing I notice is the smell of fresh coffee brewing. The second thing I notice is the absence of people as there is only us, one administrative person, one baggage handler, and one of our pilots, who immediately comes over and welcomes us, introducing himself as Alex, and asks which of our bags we want with us in the cabin. Ana and the kids take a washroom break while I am put through the rigid and demanding security and screening process that involves Alex asking me, "Mind if I have a quick check of your passports?" After a brief look he tells us we are good to go and I stand there dazed, wondering why this part of the travel process takes three hours at a regular airport.

We exit through the terminal doors and are led by Alex over to the Gulfstream G150 that is sitting there waiting for us. I still can't believe that we are actually about to board a private jet, and in the back of my mind I am expecting Alex to hand me a package and say, "Oh, by the way, I just need you to carry this somewhere discreet – maybe shove it down your pants. Here's the address of our associate Guido in Miami, would you mind dropping it off to him?"

I have my camera out and am trying to get a good picture of the airplane when Alex offers to take a photo of us. So Ana, Magnus, Stella and I line up, trying to look as cool as possible, while Alex captures us standing in front of this amazing aircraft, on a gorgeous and sunny day, at the start of our Power Weekend to Fort Lauderdale. Are we happy? Hell yeah!

We climb the five steps into the aircraft and are welcomed by the pilot Nelson. We turn into the main cabin to find a luxurious spread awaiting us. There are four large leather seats and a bench seat that the CATS team used to spread out a selection of gifts for us, including shirts for everybody, four beautiful journals and pens, two Instamatic cameras for the kids, magazines, scarves, a fancy package of pencil crayons, three containers of sunscreen and a big tray full of snacks. Our cabin bags have already been loaded and we settle ourselves into the comfy seats and get buckled in. I look over to Magnus to see a ridiculously huge smile on his face and I realize that I too am grinning wildly and feeling very much like a giddy little kid about to take my first plane ride. The aircraft is outfitted with Wi-Fi so Ana is already logged in and posting the money shot to Instagram. Stella is looking so cute with her fancy hat and has already found the CATS in-flight magazine and is leafing through it excitedly. In fact, I don't remember a time when we have all felt so exited and giddy, not to mention outrageously privileged and quite satisfied with our current position in life.

It has been a mere 15 minutes since we arrived to the terminal, and we are already taxiing out to the runway. The ride is smooth and the airplane moves quickly over the ground. After a very short wait, we move into position on the runway and hear the jet engines winding up. The plane leaps to life and we begin speeding down the runway. The acceleration is much greater than that of the big commercial planes and within seconds we have left the ground and are headed upwards into the bright blue sky on a fine Saturday morning.

Once we at cruising altitude Alex appears in the cabin with a big tray of snacks and bottles of water for everybody. He tells us there are all sorts of drinks and other snacks available in the onboard galley and points it out for us to help ourselves. He shows the kids the giant iPad that is loaded with movies and offers it to them, which they happily accept. He spends a while chatting with us, telling us a bit about his career as a pilot and some of the interesting trips he has done. Ana mentions to him that we have a number of friends who are airline pilots and he immediately smiles and replies, "Well, now you have another one!"
The Gulfstream G150 flies faster than commercial jets so our flight time to Florida is under two and a half hours. We spend the time chatting, leafing through the magazines and newspapers onboard, looking out the window, taking selfies and group shots, and sometimes looking at each other while simply smiling with disbelief. I wish I had a guitar because I am sure feeling like a rock star. The pilots interrupt the kids watching a movie on the giant iPad to bring them up to the cockpit to show them the view out the front window and all the airplane controls. They are clearly intrigued, as they stay up there for quite a while. I walk over to have a look at the onboard lavatory, which is located at the rear of the rear of the airplane and is just as luxurious as the rest of the interior – black, glossy finish, large mirror, hot and cold water and this nifty leather seat that flips up to reveal a toilet seat beneath. I briefly consider the merits and risks of yanking my wife in here so we can join the "Mile High Club" while the kids have the pilots distracted, but my stupid adult brain takes over and decides to leave it to my imagination for now!

As the airplane flies down the coast of Florida Captain Nelson's voice comes on the intercom and announces that we are currently passing Cape Canaveral to the right and will be landing soon. We get buckled back in and are soon passing right over the expansive beach and many canals of Fort Lauderdale. The landing is fast and smooth and the pilots pull the airplane right up to the front of the small terminal building. We gather our things, take one last mental picture of our private jet and then step outside into the glorious heat and humidity. We pass through the doors of the building and inside we encounter….silence. The single US immigration officer checks the pilots through and then us. There seems to be nobody else in the building except him and a porter, who quickly passes our bags through a screening machine and then leads us outside. Alex comes over, worried, and tells us that our transport has not yet arrived, but we tell him that we were supposed to call the car rental company after we landed, so it's all good. The porter offers to give us a ride, so we say our goodbyes to Nelson and Alex and are whisked away to the Budget rental car where they have a lovely Mazda 3 waiting for us. Yes, I know, after arriving by private jet we really should have been driving around a Maserati or Ferrari, or at least a Bentley but I suppose the charade had to stop somewhere!

We drive a short distance to Las Olas Boulevard and find a parking lot where we do a fast change in the car to get rid of the Canadian jeans, socks and sweaters and replace them with shorts, sandals, t-shirts and sunglasses. We follow our noses to a lovely bakery where we order three gargantuan sandwiches and enjoy lunch on the outdoor patio. Las Olas is the main east-west artery slicing through Fort Lauderdale and is home to many high end boutiques, galleries, restaurants, bars and shops of all types. As we eat our lunch we enjoy the parade of beautiful people and luxury cars passing by, but are keeping our eyes on the time as we had planned to go for an afternoon cruise on the "Jungle Queen" tourist boat.

We finish lunch and drive all the way down Las Olas until we reach the beach and turn right, which leads right to a big marina. We see the Jungle Queen right away and there is a huge mob of people there so I drop the family off to get us tickets while I park the car. Of course, the afternoon trip is sold out so we are put on a waiting list and stand by in the hot sun while an endless stream of people arrive with tickets and walk aboard the boat, including a group of four bodacious, bountiful Caribbean ladies that must have had 1400 pounds between them. As we watch the Jungle Queen sail away with its hundreds of sweaty passengers crammed into the seats, I am not feeling too unhappy. As a fine consolation prize we change into our bathers and walk across the street to the enormous beach. Ana throws off her shoes and takes off across the sand, but because the sand is scorching hot, and she still has her sensitive Canadian winter foot flesh, her soles start to burn and she accelerates rapidly to a full-on sprint, running wildly across the sand like a crazy lady, leaving the rest of us shoe-wearers behind in the hot dust. I think there may have actually been steam coming off her feet when they finally hit the water.

The beach is lovely, busy, and stretches north and south as far as I can see. The water is warm, clean, calm and thankfully shark-free. We let the sun do its work on our pasty skin and we bake in the glorious heat for nearly two hours. We then take a walk along the beach and up to the street where there is a series of beach bars and restaurants. We find a nice spot to sit down and I order up my first beer – a Presidente – while Ana and the kids eat ice creams. After a spell of leisurely people watching we wander back to the car, but not before doing a quick walk around the marina, which is obviously the millionaire’s club as I don’t see any small or even medium sized boats. I pass by one yacht that is at least 200 feet long and see two elderly couples on board sitting down for an afternoon snack, being waited on by eight crew members in uniforms. I reach up to give the owner a high-five, but it is about fifteen feet up to the edge of the boat and they won’t throw me down a ladder, so instead I give him the “Olson nod” once I back away far enough from the boat for them to see me again. Of course, they have their eyes firmly locked on the caviar crackers and champagne so it is pretty much a wasted nod.

We drive back up Las Olas and check into our home for the weekend - a lovely and grand old place called the Riverside Hotel. By this time we are getting pretty hungry so we get back in the car and drive north to Lauderdale-by-the-Sea to see if we can find a Caribbean restaurant called Aruba that the airport porter had mentioned to us. It doesn’t take long for us to get there, but when we do arrive we realize we aren’t the only ones looking for somewhere to dine on a Saturday night - the place is packed with a line stretching out the door. But the queue moves quickly and, amazingly, they have a table for us immediately. The restaurant is much larger than I first thought and we are seated beside a series of windows looking out to the beach. The food is decent and the kids get to try conch fritters for the very first time. We finish up dinner and then take a walk around the area. There are people everywhere and the public spaces we find are amazing – playgrounds, streets lined with art installations, colourful chairs everywhere, and even a full band playing on a stage set up on the corner of a busy intersection. We are so happy to be able to walk around at night wearing just t-shirts. For a Canadian coming off winter this is a big deal.

We watch the band for a while, enjoying the warm evening air, and then drive back to our hotel as we are all getting a little tired. Once we are back in our room I consider heading down to the outside patio of the hotel for a cigar and beer, but I make the mistake of lying down on the wonderfully comfortable bed to work out the details of my plan and I do not get back up.