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Friday, May 31, 2019

West Palm Weekend - TravelCation

Vacation and Traveling are two very different things in my world.  

A vacation is a pure relaxation:  do nothing,  except maybe sip margs by the pool.  The goal is rest, relax, recharge.  On the other hand, a trip is a do everything see everything experience everything sort of journey.  You vacation on a remote island or somewhere standard like the Bahamas.  It doesn't really matter where you all, all that matters is you are away from the normal 9-5 of life.  On the other hand, you travel somewhere like Europe.  Where you are matters and you are in this destination to see all it has to offer, even if it's at the sacrifice of R&R.  When you look at traveling in these two lenses, you can probably guess which of the two I excel at. 

You guessed it - I think I am a pretty swell traveler.
I know I am a terrible vacationer. 

As life gets busier and busier and my world starts to spin a little faster (home improvements, social commitments, work, bills you know the stuff), I start to need some relaxation mixed in with all that traveling.  And so, when Adam suggested his need to get away to and relax, somewhere warm far away from work and home improvements, we planned a quick Friday after work to Monday evening adventure.  

Trip Recap Video

But of course, in my Katie Wanders way, I took this relaxing vacation thing he envisioned and filled it with kayaking, scuba diving, driving range, ferry rides, and shopping.  If I could have found a decent hike, I probably would have squeezed that in too.   Luckily Adam shares my enthusiasm for travel and adventure and welcomed the mix of slow mornings by the pool and sunfilled days on the water. 

So, if you want a mix of vacation and travel, adventure and relaxation, then this guide to a West Palm Beach weekend is for you.  

When planning a quick getaway to West Palm Beach we knew we wanted to stay on Singer Island.  It's one of those island's that isn't really an island, but instead a peninsula six miles from the City of West Palm Beach.  It is small and idyllic, clean and well cared for, a perfect little oasis in the Palm Beaches.  

Staying in West Palm can be tricky as the area ranges from nice to not so nice and that happens fast.  But on Singer Island, you really can't go wrong.  From fancy hotels to boutique locations, you can find some great lodging options on the island.  While some love the thread count of fancy hotels, I am a big fan of quaint cozy character filled Airbnbs.  Small scale unique arrangements that usually have some kind of cool perk (bikes, paddleboards, etc).  

So instead of the Hilton, we opted Airbnb and stayed at one of the apartments that are a part of Singer Island Vacation Rentals Harbourside Apartments.  Our apartment complex was small, only 6 units right on the walkway on Singer Island.  We stayed in Unit 5 which was a 1 bedroom unit with a king bed, fully stocked kitchen, bathroom and living room.  The small complex was at the end of Singer Island right at the opening of the inlet which meant, we could watch the boats go by the pool.  The shared space in the middle of all the units included a pool, hot tub, grill/cabana, and a laundry room.  There were free bikes on the property to borrow (all used up when we were there) as well as a great little lawn with corn hole. 

Instead of going out for lunch, we spent a portion of each day sitting by the pool, having a cheese plate for lunch while relaxing in the sun and cooling off in the pool.  It quickly became my favorite little routine.  Cut up some cheese and crackers, grab the pepper jelly, carrots, and hummus.  Sit by the pool, snack, and swim.   A little bit of relaxing each day before a fun-filled day of scuba diving, shopping, eating, and kayaking. 

A good way to relax in West Palm Beach is on Peanut Island.  A quick ferry ride will take you over to this oasis where you can snooze, snorkel, swim, and relax the day away on this 79-acre island.  

Shuttle services to Peanut Island are offered by private companies.  One of thee options is the water taxi runs out of Riviera Beach Marina, the Peanut Island Shuttle Boat.  This shuttle offers round trip fare for $12 a person and runs from 10am to 5 pm (the last boat to the island is 3:30 pm).  You can rent snorkeling gear right from the shuttle boat company.  

On the island, enjoy the beaches, a snorkeling lagoon, picnic pavilions, and a walking path.  You can even spend the night and camp on the island (glamping really) with a beautiful beach, pavilion and restrooms (more information on Peanut Island Camping here). 

We packed water, sunscreen and towels and rented snorkel gear from the shuttle service and spent a few hours relaxing on the beach and walking around the island.  If you do want to go relax on the beach, feel free to bring a cooler and snacks and whatever you need for the day.  However, alcohol possession or consumption is restricted to camping permit areas only - you can't bring alcohol on this ferry. 

Of course, I went scuba diving.   

Wherever I go, I try to sneak in a dive or two.  Just a half day..... just enough to see a new place below the waterline, but not enough to take over the whole trip (dive trips are wonderful but utterly exhausting).  This little technique has enabled me to go for a dive (or two) in some cool places like Madeira, the Azores, and Puerto Rico.  Not dive trips, those were reserved for Grand Cayman and Bonaire, these were just trips planned for other purposes where I snuck in a dive or two.  

West Palm Beach has a lot of dive shops.  I read some reviews and based on reviews and location, decided to book a charter with Force-E Scuba.  I picked up my rental gear on Saturday and Sunday, I was off on the boat for two dives out on the reef.  It wasn't the most exciting dive but I was happy to be in 78F water with 60 feet of visibility, swimming with some tropical fish.  I saw morays, lobsters, puffer fish and lionfish to name a few.  On our boat ride back, wild dolphins chased our boat and played with our wake, making it one hell of a day on and in the water. 

If you prefer to snorkel, then ditch the tanks and head to Blue Heron Bridge.  Blue Heron Bridge is home to one of the best shore dives in the country, but also home to some impressive snorkeling.  Phil Foster Park in Rivera Beach offers an 800-foot long track of artificial reef made with 600 tons of rock boulders, welcome to the Palm Beaches’ Snorkeling Trail.  The water is clearest at high tide so plan your visit accordingly. We tried to snorkel here and even after several trips back to the park, we could not find a parking spot.  Go early and with a whole lot of patience. 

On our last day in sunny Florida, we decided to head to MacArthur Beach State Park on Singer Island to kayak.  We rented a double kayak for a few hours, paddling out to little islands and eventually making our way over to a few manatees hanging out in the shallow water.   You are given a kayak, paddles, and life jackets and a map for a low fee ($12 an hour, $30 a half day).  High tide is best as you have enough water to reach all of the important areas you may want to visit.  

Truth be told, Adam did 90% of the rowing while I enjoyed the ride, the view, and the sunshine of Florida.  This counts as relaxing, doesn't it?  This is an inexpensive way to get on the water, get moving, and a chance to see some of Florida's wildlife.  Even better if you can find someone to paddle for you. 

Confession.  I was 31 years old when I swung my first golf club.  Mini-golf is as far as I ever got and let's just say that it was a test of my patience.  It is, however, Adam's thing and I was interested in hitting some golf balls and learning a bit from Adam.  When I first met Adam, I had him list his hobbies and guess what came in as number 1.  There are a lot of driving ranges in the area and this was a fun way to be in the sun, relax, try something new, learn about one of Adam's passions, and get moving after too much cheese and crackers by the pool.  

Of course, eating, drinking, and shopping are perfect for anyone trying to relax in Florida.  You have a lot of options on and off Singer Island.  On Singer Island, we stopped by Sailfish down the road from our apartment for drinks, conch and oysters.  We loved sitting in the sun with seafood, watching the boats go by while live music played on the patio.  This is a perfect spot on Singer Island if you want to sit outside, enjoy a drink and some seafood.  

Another great spot outside of West Palm Beach is Guanabanas in Jupiter, about 25 minutes north of Singer Island.  Let me start by saying this is the kind of place you go for the atmosphere, not the food.  The food is fine (big portions, seafood, southern comfort style) but it's the atmosphere that makes you feel like you are in some sort of fun and funky outdoor jungle.  You can sit on the docks with a drink while you wait for your table.  The restaurant is large, nearly entirely outdoor seating with several bars and awesome views of the water.  We waited an hour for a table at 8pm on a Saturday (be warned, this is typical on a weekend) and happily ate crab cakes and fish as we watched the Florida sunset. 

Another good spot on our trip was ice cream at Sloan's in West Palm Beach.   This place smelled like heaven as the waffle cones came hot off the press and the smell wafted through the outdoor mall.  I had the carrot cake ice cream - vanilla ice cream with chunks of fluffy cinnamony carrot cake mixed in.  Hands down, some of the best ice cream I have ever had with some unique flavors to boot.   

While enjoying Sloan's delicious creations, we spent some time perusing the outlet and outdoor malls in the area.  You have the Palm Beach Outlets and City Place in downtown West Palm Beach.  Adam looked for shorts while I groggily walked around (thanks Dramamine post dive) and bought a cute dress from one of the stores I can't even remember because again, Dramamine.  A little bit of shopping and air conditioning was the perfect way to unwind between all that outdoor activity.  

Looking back, I am always amazed by how much I can fit in three short days.  Kayaking, island hopping, dinners out, lunch by the pool, scuba diving, shopping, and some time at the range.  It ended up being the perfect mix of seeing something new and relax and recharge.  Someday I will spend a weekend doing absolutely nothing, but until then, I hope to help you find that perfect balance. 

An epic wonderful TravelCation in West Palm Beach, Florida. Direct flights from small airports (Westchester New York to West Palm Beach Florida) and the best of company made this the perfect 3 day weekend away.  

Thank you, Florida for endless sunshine.  
Thank you, Adam, for whisking me away somewhere warm and relaxing. 
Stay tuned for more TravelCations, coming in hot. 

Happy Wandering, 

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