My wife Donna and I recently went to a pickleball retreat at the Sandpiper Bay Club Med in Port St. Lucie, Florida. You may not want to take the same route we did, but if you take a similar route, this blog post will give you some good ideas about where to stay and where to get food.
We started our trip on the Monday after the Government shutdown ended. Since we were not sure that all the TSA employees would show up, we gave ourselves extra time to get to the airport in Austin. We also remembered that on one occasion long-term parking was full so we had to find an alternative. We didn’t want any stress before the trip started!
Well, we got TSA pre-approved (this is done randomly) and breezed through the checkpoint. No stress, right? None, until that is, we heard this – “Those of you in the boarding area for the flight to Fort Lauderdale…um…it seems that the windshield on the plane cracked. We will have to get a new plane and change gates.”
Oh, great. Stress!
Well, Southwest got a new plane in about 20 minutes! Stress minimized. The boarding process was a bit chaotic because the normal Southwest lineup procedure was not available, but all in all we were delayed no more than an hour.
When we got to the airport, I looked at the Hertz Gold sign to find our car and it said, “Go to desk” or something like that. Oh, no. More stress? The desk told us, “Go pick any car you like in your category.” We roamed around looking for the best car we could find and chose a Corolla. Unfortunately, Donna dropped her favorite sweater on the ground in the process, something we did not realize until we got to our hotel. More on that in a bit.
Because we were getting in late, we decided to stay in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, a little town that is about ½ hour from the airport. I lived in Ft. Lauderdale in 1980 and back then we thought of Lauderdale-by-the-Sea as “old fogy-ville.” The laws were so strict that you could get arrested for drinking on the beach. In fact, here is a picture of me in front of a judge.
(Photo copyright by the Sun Sentinel)
Just kidding! That’s not me – really.
Anyway, being an old fogy now, I’m cool with being in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea. Turns out that it is not exactly an old person retreat anymore, which is also cool.
Anyway, Donna (who does all of our planning) chose a hotel called “The Plunge” and got us an oceanfront bungalow. It wasn’t exactly oceanfront, but you could see the ocean from the balcony.
Our room was tiny, but clean. In fact, having owned a condo on the beach in the past, I was amazed that not a grain of sand was on the floor. The hotel had enough sense to put in tile floors, not carpeting. The photo below shows what our room looked like, except that there was a chair and a floor lamp in the corner. We actually had to shimmy past the bed to get our luggage past. The bed, however, was very comfortable.
The bathroom was quite spacious. We got the usual amenities – shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and body lotion (only they called it body milk).
One of the reasons we chose the hotel was that it had a kitchenette. Don’t let the picture below fool you. This is a picture from the hotel website and whoever took it obviously knew how to create an angle that made the area look very big. It is not, but it is adequate and, moreover, clean.
If not for the airport delay, we might have gone to the Publix nearby and bought food to bring to the room. However, in this case we did not want to wait for dinner.
After some research, we chose to go to a restaurant called “101 Ocean.” We assumed that was the address but, after roaming around for a while, we realized that is was not. When we found it, we saw a scene that looked like the photo below.
We thought, “Oh, great. We’ll have to wait.” Fortunately, we did not have to wait.
Our food was fantastic. I had the plantain crusted grouper and Donna had the crispy duck. We ate every bit of our dinner, which is pretty unusual for us. Normally, I avoid ordering wine in a restaurant because of the markup, which is usually three times retail. However, the markup in the restaurant was only twice retail. I highly recommend 101 Ocean.
The next day we had breakfast at the “Diner-by-the-Sea.” It’s not really by the sea but it is pretty much an old-fashioned diner. What we did not know was that it is cash only. Cash? What’s that? It was an okay breakfast, albeit a bit pricey.
Then we went for a walk on the beach. As you might be able to tell from the picture below, you tended to sink into the sand when you walked. That made walking a bit tougher than usual.
It was pretty cold out (by our standards) but, because of the sand condition, I broke a pretty good sweat. I was happy about that because I wanted to burn off some the previous night’s dinner.
On the way back we saw a lot of people doing yoga in front of the hotel.
It seemed like this was something organized by the hotel, but I’m not sure. We saw another park where people were doing yoga. There were also a lot of bicyclists around, so Lauderdale-by-the-Sea seems like a pretty active community.
Then it was time to go. We decided to take A1A all the way, but encountered a detour. The trip should have lasted about three hours, but because of the detour and because we hit two drawbridges, it took more than four hours!
No problem. We were able to ogle all the HUGE houses along the way. We saw one for sale that interested us because it was oceanfront and had a tennis court, which could easily be turned into a pickleball court.
But they were asking $30,000,000. Get serious. $25,000,000 I might consider, right? One can only dream.
Anyway, on the way we stopped at a Walmart so Donna could shop for a new sweater. We found one on a clearance rack that was normally $26.95 but had been marked down to $15. When we checked out, it rang up as $9! It cannot replace the sweater Donna lost, but it was a great bargain.
After Walmart, we stopped at a Publix supermarket on Blue Heron Blvd. in Riviera Beach. This was a very unique supermarket. It had an escalator for shopping carts!
I got a tuna sandwich and Donna, preferring to be healthier, got a fruit salad. Then we went to Ocean Reef Park on A1A where we sat on the beach to eat our lunch. While we were eating, we saw a fish jump out of the water – a big fish. It jumped and twisted a couple of times. I said it was a “spinning dolphin” but got my species wrong. It was a spinning shark.
Interestingly, I had only heard about this kind of shark a couple of days earlier while watching an episode of “Blue Planet” on PBS. I fell very, very lucky that we were able to see the shark.
We also saw a few surfers. One was not that great, being able only to surf a couple of feet. That was, of course, much better than my results when I tried to surf (a long, long time ago). I felt fortunate just to be able to get up on the board.
Finally, we reached the Sandpiper Club Med in Port St. Lucie. I will write about that in a separate blog. On the way back from Club Med we got stuck in rain. We wanted to go to a nature preserve, but that idea got rained out. We stopped at a different Publix where I bought a pre-made turkey sandwich and Donna bought a salad. I gotta tell you – it was a great sandwich. So, here is a traveler note – Publix supermarkets seem to have really good sandwiches to go, and they are all over the place. It seemed like there was one every couple of miles.
We were able to find a small park that had a covered picnic table. You were supposed to pay for parking using a vending machine, but I figured we would only be there for fifteen minutes max, so I decided not to. Of course, as soon as we sat to eat, the parking patrol came by. I paid for parking just in time!
One final note: we stopped at the Ft. Lauderdale airport Lost and Found on the return trip. We did not find Donna’s sweater, but were amazed at the sheer number of winter coats hanging in the facility. I have to wonder how people can walk out of the airport and not notice that a big, bulky coat is missing.