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Travel and diving with sharks in the USA Florida

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Travel Story and scuba diving in Jupiter in Florida, the USA with sharks and visits to Cape Canaveral, Orlando Universal Studio, Advenger Island, Cristal River and Homosassa manatees, Everglades and the Keys

Where can you go scuba diving with sharks in Jupiter in Florida, the USA?

jupiter florida usa

About Jupiter Florida:

The, for us Europeans, most unknown dive sites in Jupiter, have a high number of giant sharks, including Bull-, Lemon-, Hammer, Tiger- and Nurse Sharks - swimming around in the Atlantic Ocean. So, as avid divers, we thought it was time to organize a trip to Jupiter in Florida, the USA, to finally scuba dive with the large predators of the Oceans.

General info about diving - scuba diving in Jupiter with sharks

Scuba diving in the USA - Florida - Jupiter is only suitable for very experienced flow divers, from a boat. To remain depth in the blue must be automatic. Being able to control and help yourself in heavy weather conditions is an absolute must and panic attacks are unacceptable. A pill against seasickness is certainly recommended, unless you'vve got strong sailor legs. Following up instructions is very important, not only for your own safety, but also that of others. Next to that it's recommended to reach the surface with a sufficient amount of Nitrox left because there can be heavy waves.

When you go shark diving with Scuba Works in Jupiter, Florida, there are a number of house rules, you need to take into account: there are no deco dives, there is maximum use of nitrox, the nitrox is measured with their second (calibrate) Oxygen Analyzer, the analysis logbooks should always be completed, there's a thorough briefing each time and you're always responsible for your safety.

The maximum nitrox ppO2 is given to secure a maximum dive time. The bottles are very well stocked, to approximately 260 à 270 bar nitrox. Normally a dive of 45 minutes is calculated, but an hour's dive is certainly feasible as well.

At the end of February, the water temperature is between 22 and 24°C. A 5mm diving suit, bones, compulsory gloves and cap should keep you warm enough.

The boat of Emerald Charters is spacious and comfortable. The skipper narrated very well and has a lot of experience with the recuperation of divers in the sometimes-heavy Atlantic Ocean. Once on board, everyone gets seated and have their own place, which isn't the most convenient. When you're the first to step on board, you get assigned a spot in the back. This way, divers constantly nuisance each other, as they all have to pass by.

The ladder on the back of the boat is made of thick tubes with soft rubber around it. This way you have a good grip and won't hurt your bare feet. The ladder is deep enough in to the water, but nevertheless you have to be careful with waves and swell to remain cautious when ascending to the surface.

Water, coke, and diet coke are abundantly present on board. Hungry stomachs are filled richly, with crackers, biscuits, fresh fruit, and a tasty, very well-topped thick sandwich with greens and at least 200 gr ham.

Randy is the dive leader of Scuba Works and has a lot of experience scuba diving with sharks. He is doing everything possible to lure the sharks - to keep them close to the divers and in front of the cameras, but above all he tries to proceed the scuba diving in safe conditions.

Scuba Works rarely has foreign divers in its circles. It's, like in Belgium, very usual for everyone to bring their own equipment. A tank and lead are therefore never included in the dive price (US $100 + tax per day for 3 dives). Diving equipment is very expensive in proportion. When you want to dive for multiple days and need to rent equipment, you can request a discount on bottles and lead (US $20 per day). In addition, you need to pay US $20 per nitrox mixture/respiratory gas. You must also drive your own and/or hired equipment to the boat, unload the car and load the equipment on board. If you wish this to be done by the company, it will cost you US $50 per day!

The staff are all volunteers and live of their tips. For us, this is something we need to get used. Especially since the tip is usually US $10 per dive. You should therefore count US $30 extra per day to the bill and give this to the supervisors on board. After all, they did help us by bringing the diving bottles to the street and in the car.

On 50meters from the boat, there's a free hotel parking where we leave the car (make sure to bring back your ticket to pick up the car at the end of the day).

At the diving school, there are baths to rinse your equipment and a place, where you can leave it to dry until the next day.

Jupiter and Florida in general are very expensive environments, because many rich retired people come here to hibernate. So, be sure to provide a spacious budget for lodging, food and entertainment.

Travel Story diving - scuba diving in Jupiter in Florida, the USA, with sharks and visits to Cape Canaveral, Orlando Universal Studio, Advenger Island, Cristal River and Homosassa manatees, Everglades and the Keys

Saturday 20th of February 2016:

from Brussels to Miami in the USA

After a 2-hour flight from Brussels to Madrid and a brief stopover, we settle in the comfortable Iberia chairs for a trip of 9 hours to Miami in the USA. In relation to Asian airlines, Iberia is rather disappointing. The food is mediocre and we have to ask the staff for water and other drinks. The entertainment program, however, is OK and up-to-date with some recent movies.

Around 20.00pm local time, we land in Miami in the USA. We lose more than an hour to get through customs. Via a terminal, we register electronically and then repeat the same thing, but 'live' with an immigration-official. Fingerprints and mugshots are taken, as if we're the biggest criminals in the world!

Fortunately, our suitcases come through simultaneously and we make our way to the car rental department of Alamo to pick up our rental car. Here as well, everything is automated and we register and enter all other info via a terminal. After all this administration work is done, the machine spits out a paper and we may pick up a 'middle-class' car at the parking area. We opt for a white Hyundai with large boot.

Our first night in Florida in the Regency Hotel, is located near the airport of Miami. Practical, but from 07.00am, you can be disturbed by the aircraft taking off.

Sunday 21 February 2016:

Visit Miami and drive to Jupiter in Florida

During breakfast we go 'all the way' and we opt for a rich American breakfast with eggs, bacon, sausages, etc. Tasty!

Then we start our drive towards Miami Beach with its impressive skyline and ultra-modern high-rise. Of course, South Beach, the colorful attraction of Miami, can't be missed. Because of the many traffic lights and the busy traffic, it takes a while to get there. It's certainly worth the wait to visit this world famous art deco district with its flamboyant population. Finding a parking spot here, is a hopeless task though, so we are happy to just slowly drive along the many shops, bars and restaurants.

Miami Beach in Florida

miami beach florida

Pictures - Photos Miami Beach in Florida

Next we drive 1,5 hours north to the coastal town named, Jupiter. The following five days we'll spend quite some time in the water here, diving with sharks.

We stay at the Best Western Intercoastal hotel because of the convenient location, especially in relation to the diving school Scuba Works and the rapid access to the Riverwalk. A beautifully landscaped walking path next to the beautiful lagoon of Jupiter in Florida.

The hotel has a good price-quality ratio, but is less spectacular compared to the other buildings in the area. The residents of Jupiter are clearly no poor wretches!

After a quick visit to the shop for water and supplies for the following day, we go for a quick (greasy) bite at Taco Bell. Then we go back to the hotel and call it an early night, because tomorrow we need to be fresh for our first day of shark dives.

Jupiter in Florida 1

photos jupiter in florida

Pictures - Photos Jupiter in Florida

Monday the 22nd of February 2016:

Shark Diving in the Atlantic Ocean

Since the dive school is expecting us at 7.30am, we get cracking on breakfast at 7.00am prompt. The buffet has a various selection from pancakes to waffles, eggs, sausages, different types of coffee cake and biscuits, cereals, yoghurt, etc.

When we're sated, we take the necessary seasick pills and step on the boat.

Around 16.00pm we get back to the hotel and use the time to make a short walk on the River Walk, which leads us to a beautiful but small lagoon with an extremely fancy harbor, full of impressive yachts. Here we find several yachts, worth at least a million, just floating as if it's nothing! We don't know where to look.

At the Quay there are also a few cozy taverns with nice terraces, which all are occupied by the posh yacht owners, that prudently sip from their coffees. The average age seems to be far above 60 years. So, here are all the rich retired Americans, ravelling out their old days!

We will dive into the open Atlantic, at approximately 40 minutes by boat from the port of Jupiter in Florida. It's the intention to especially dive with bull sharks. Bull Sharks are usually located on or in the vicinity of the soil. Therefore, we dive (float) with the current.

During the trip to the dive site, the employees of Scuba Works make some raw fish ready to lure the sharks. They also use harpoons to catch fish. The big difference with this freshly shot fish is that they aren't death immediately, which releases vibrations that activate the (Hummer) sharks hunting instincts. The fastest shark then consumes the snack quickly and won't usually safe anything for the others. If the harpoon divers want to use the shot fish as bait for the following dive, they must hand over the fish to someone on board, immediately. Otherwise, their prey will quickly be stolen by the hunting sharks. It's even possible that the divers get bitten by the sharks because they see them as rival of their food or possible prey.

In the first minutes of the first scuba dive, we see a group of six large robust Bull sharks. We scuba dive at 35m depth and try to lure the Bull sharks closer to the surface, so that we can extend the length of the dive (longer no deco time and less air consumption). The Bull sharks follow until maximum depth of 15m, so a 50-minute dive is possible with this air stock. It's advisable that, when at the surface with sufficient air, to wait on the boat. The waves are fairly rough, making it safer to continue to breathe through the expansion valve.

Diving with bull, the Lemon and the Hammerhead sharks 1

lemon hammerhead sharks

Pictures - Photos diving with bull and hammerhead sharks - bull and hammerhead sharks 1

On the second dive site, we find a wreck. We dive and distribute a smell track. This way, we have a longer no deco time and less air consumption. Behind the last wreck there's practically no current. This is an ideal place to peace out for a minute, lay in the sand, enjoy the view and take photos of the passing sharks. A series of Bull sharks and Nurse sharks pass by. To keep it safe, the dive site is left in a group to dive in the shallower blue, this in order to remain under water as long as possible. We even succeed to lure the Bull sharks to a shallow depth of only 10m. Look around, hands and legs together and keep away from the bait with fish, is all we have to do and know now. In the meantime, the current on the surface of the Atlantic has become stronger. Back on board, our diving instructors continue the hunt for a little and come back with a Barracuda of 1.2m and another big fish. The caught fish immediately chaste and the intestines are preserved to use as a bait for the following dive.

The third dive will take place on the same location as the previous dive. The situation has not changed, but the main intention now is to lure Tiger Sharks and Hammer heads. Quiet breathing and no sudden movement (which you should always be aware of, since diving with sharks can be dangerous), is therefore essential. An assistant of the instructors, meant to catch a fish of a sufficient size and while riding an underwater scooter try to lure the sharks. We're unable to shoot a fish, though the Bull sharks, Lemon sharks, Nurse sharks and a large Hammer head shark react on the smell track. The Hammer head shark is clearly on a hunt. This means that we need to be extra careful. Hammer Sharks hunt on large preys, even on other sharks. Yet, this is actually more of a twilight and nocturnal hunter. When we ascent to the current we take on the sharks, nearly to the top. This way, we're able to enjoy the last authorized breath of these beautiful animals. With all of us very satisfied, we sail back to the port of Jupiter in Florida.

Tuesday the 23rd of February 2016:

Annulation scuba diving, spontaneous visit to Palm Beach in Forida instead

The dives today are canceled because Scuba Works doesn't have enough divers to sail. They only have US customers and most of the scuba dives only get booked on short notice. This of course, is a disappointment, but we knew in advance that February is included the low season, especially when it comes to diving. The reason therefore is the unpredictable weather condition. At the same time this means peak season for sharks, which come closer to the shore and are present in larger numbers.

Unfortunately, we won't be able to dive today, because we're the only customers. A great pity, but that can happen in low season in a less touristy area.

We try to swallow this bitter pill by exploring the area a little. Via the 1A1 and Highway 1 we drive for half an hour to the gulf of Palm Beach in Florida the USA.

Just before Palm Beach we first pass through a less attractive 'black' slum and begin to fear that there isn't too much to do here. Once we've crossed the bridge to the peninsula of Palm Beach however, we arrive in a totally different world of abundance and wealth. This is where Palm Beach in Florida is known for. Beautiful spacious houses in Mediterranean style with multiple classes cars in the driveway, perfectly trimmed hedges and lawns, waving palm trees and Mexican workers to do the labor and keep things tidy. Some houses even have access to a private Beach.

Palm Beach in Florida 1

photos palm beach in florida

Pictures - photos Palm Beach in Florida

Another point of interest in Palm Beach, is Worth Avenue, where all the main designer brands such as Gucci, Chanel, etc. are located. Shopping at your own risk!

We want to reflect all these beautiful impressions with a refreshing glass of something and a small bite, but a small tavern or little café we can't find anywhere in this neighborhood. We drive back towards the inner city and go for a delicious hamburger and freshly cut chips.

On the edge of Palm Beach, there's an outlet shopping center (likewise Maasmechelen Village) where we obviously, can't skip the Nike and Levi's store.

In the meantime, a little storm started raving and so we drive back to Jupiter in the pouring rain. Tonight, we'll have quiet one.

Palm Beach in Florida 2

photos palm beach florida

Pictures - Photos Palm Beach in Florida

Wednesday the 24th of February 2016:

Scuba diving with sharks in a heavy Atlantic Ocean

As on the previous days the briefing for the scuba diving had been given several times, it won't be repeated today. Only the positions of the diving in relation to the sharks and the fish are explained once more. The Atlantic Ocean is very wild and judged by the recent weather forecasts, it promises to be a hard day to dive in the Atlantic Ocean. Today we're accompanied by four Spear fishers and their underwater scooters.

Although the supervisors are really trying, on the first dive, we unfortunately don't see any sharks. At the end of the dive the current is already tangible from 7m depth.

The second dive site is back at the wreck at which we dived the day before yesterday. We swim above and around it and at the same time spread a smell track. Lemon Sharks, Bull sharks and Nurse sharks immediately attract. After 10 minutes, a beautiful, large Tiger shark accompanies. We're happy as a clam! The Tiger shark swims in circles around us elegantly and slowly. Enjoying the attention and gives us all the time in the world to take photos. However, we have to be very careful, one bite can be fatal. At the end of the dive, we dive in the blue between 12m and 10m depth. The wave is clearly felt, but with our nitrox mixture a deeper safety stairs is doable.

Diving with Tiger Sharks 1


Pictures - Photos diving - Scuba diving with Tiger Sharks 1

Because of the billow, it's very difficult to get back on board. Only the dive leader and myself get back on our own strength. All others have to even solve the cord because of the enormous forces of the Atlantic Ocean. We have a total of five attempts to recuperate everyone.

The spear gunmen have caught three big fish during the dive. In the event of the recovering of the last people, who hang on a OSB on the surface, suddenly a giant Hammer Head up to 5,5m comes at the surface. In half, he bites, one of the caught fish from as least 35cm thick and 17cm width, in once. Gone prey! Only the head and gills are left. For us, this is a unique opportunity to see and experience the power of such a large animal. That all on the surface. One of the divers wants to quickly jump back in the water, but the dive leader stops him. A hunting Hammer Head shark entails too much of a safety risk for scuba diving.

The Atlantic Ocean is becoming increasingly rougher. Some of us are now suffering from serious seasickness. Yet we still jump in the water for our third and last dive. Another great spectacle during the diving awaits. Where the intention is to drift in the shallower blue zone, the sharks come up to a fairly unshallow depth. Since our time between the diving at the heavy Atlantic Ocean was shortened, we try to compensate this via the heavy nitrox mixture and by shallower scuba diving.

The recuperating and getting on board again, causes some difficulty. Tired but content, we sail via the very turbulent Atlantic Ocean, back to the harbor of Jupiter.

At night we discover Jupiter and the rustic inn, a cozy eatery on the water with a view of the lighthouse, which is known for its many fish and shellfish dishes. Top recommendation!

Jupiter in Florida 2

photos Jupiter in florida

Pictures - photos Jupiter in Florida

Thursday the 25th of February 2016:

Annulation scuba diving, so we pay a visit to the Kennedy Space Center in Forida

Even today, the scuba diving by Scuba Works is canceled because of the low number of customers.

We decide to visit the Kennedy Space Center instead, which is located, a drive of well over two hours north of Jupiter. Despite the fact of the sunny forecast, it's only 17°C and there is a cool wind. Long trousers and a sweater are certainly not a superfluous luxury in the 'sunshine state' today.

First we have to pay US $10 for the parking and US $50 + fee entrance per person. The first thing that strikes us when we enter the site is that it's relatively small and that there's put a lot of effort into the lake in front of the theme park. Just after the entrance, there are plenty of dining options and souvenir shops in striking colors.

The Rocket garden includes several missiles exhibited and contribute with some beautiful photos.

Then we take the bus to the rather distant Apollo - Saturn V Center. We pass among others the launch control center, the building where the missiles are assembled and some operational launch platforms. Unfortunately, we can't get of the bus and we only get the chance to sporadically take a photo.

In the Apollo - Saturn V Center we start off with a very lively presentation about the origins and the history of the American space program. As it were the development of the first spacecraft, we relive the failed attempts with the devices to shoot into space, but finally, the successful landing of Apollo 11 on the moon in 1969. Gooseflesh moment!

Then we arrive in a huge hangar where the Saturn V rocket can be admired. This is the largest, heaviest and strongest rocket which became operational, ever used. Very impressive! In this hangar, there are a number of authentic suits exhibited, a piece of moon rock that you can touch and a few other instruments that were used during the past space travel.

Kennedy Space Center in Florida 1

photos kennedy space center florida

Pictures - Photos Kennedy Space Center in Florida

By bus, we return to the immense tourist domain, where we in the IMAX theater watch the 40 minute long, 3D film 'Journey to Space'. In which the plans for the future of NASA are explained, with a particular focus on 'travelling to Mars in 2030'.

At last, we visit the building that is dedicated to the world famous Atlantis space shuttle. First, we get watch another nice accrued reportage about the creation of the reusable space shuttle and its many journeys to space. Then we arrive in the vestibule, where the original device is exhibited. This also results in a wow-moment!

In the meantime, it's 5.45pm and we need to hurry to the lower floor, where we, just in time, arrive for the lifelike simulation of a spacecraft launching convictions. Other than some jiggle, joggle tribulation, it's pretty doable.

As icing on the cake, we can witness a real launch of a communications satellite with a Falcon 9 rocket, this evening at 18.47pm. For an additional cost of US $20 you can choose to watch the launch very closely (within a radius of 3 miles), but we opt for the free option and take place in the gallery to the rear on the grounds. There are continuous updates via speakers and the timer slowly counts down to zero. The tension on the tribune rises, but then, 1min 41sec before the launch, the whole operation gets cancelled, because of 'an issue with loading cryogenic liquid oxygen into the launchers fuel tanks'. A last-minute cancelling, apparently occurs more often, but for us it's still a big disappointment. A real shame, as this was a unique chance to witness a live launching. Shit happens!

In the meantime, the weather changed drastically and in the pouring rain, we drive back to Jupiter, where we have a quiet evening instead.

Kennedy Space Center in Florida 2

photos kennedy space center florida

Pictures - Photos Kennedy Space Center in Florida

Friday the 26th of February 2016:

Diving with sharks in the Atlantic Ocean in Jupiter - Florida

On our last diving day in Jupiter - Florida, the Atlantic Ocean fortunately is much calmer than last Wednesday. Yet, there are still white caps. With ca 21°C and a cool breeze the temperature also has decreased within the last days. Fortunately, the glorious sunshine causes warmth and there only are few clouds.

During the first dive, we descend to a depth of 36m. The soil certainly still is 5 meters lower, but our nitrox mixture limits our depth. Not long till a Bull shark starts following us. After 20 minutes, we also get accompanied by ten Lemon sharks, which continue their trip with us for a while. Getting back on board is a lot easier today.

Diving with Bull and Lemon sharks 2

lemon sharks

Pictures - photos diving with Bull and Lemon sharks 2

The second dive of the day takes place at the wreck we've now dived a few times before. One Bull shark, three Nurse sharks, nine Lemon sharks, a Tiger shark and two Hammer head sharks are in for our entertainment. Photos can be taken in abundance and won't let this chance pass by that easily. During the dive, the Lemon sharks are very wild. They play fight and constantly bump in to us and each other. At some point, one of them tries to eat one of my fins. The only way to not let this happen is to literally, kick it against its beak with my fin. After two attempts the Lemon shark gives up. At zero we ascent to 10m depth. The sharks come along, which results in some great shots up untill the very end.

Diving - Scuba diving with Tiger Sharks 2


Pictures - Photos diving with Tiger Sharks 2

We remain at the same location for our third dive. The situation has not changed and we see a Bull shark, three Nurse sharks - and ten Lemon sharks passing our lens.

Diving - Scuba diving with Bull and Lemon sharks 3

lemon sharks

Pictures - Photos diving with bull and lemon sharks 3

On our last evening in Jupiter - Florida we complement our tummies in Shipwreck Bar & Grill, a local restaurant that's full of attributes and images that refer to pirates and the sea in general. Definitely, a must see for all lovers of the better kitsch and shoddy!

Saturday the 27th of February 2016:

Universal Studios Orlando theme parks - Florida

We leave the charming Jupiter and drive for a short three hours to the hideous and very touristy Kissimmee. This will be our base during the time we visit the two Universal Studios Orlando theme parks.

Celebration Suites at old town is like most other low budget hotels located on a busy boulevard, full of bright, showy neon signs for restaurants and outlet shops, where you can purchase the necessary souvenirs. The money is worth the room, as in addition to a bedroom, we also have a fully equipped kitchen and a lounge with a large flat-screen TV. The rooms are quite worn out and the downside is the little fee for use of wifi. In general, in all honesty, we can't complain.

Once we dropped off our luggage in the room, we pick up our online pre-ordered theme park tickets at the Kissimmee Guest Services (www.KGSTickets.com). This website always guarantees a lower price than the prices you pay at the counters of the amusements parks. We have even been lucky to obtain a 4-day ticket for the price of two days. It's and remains a big saving from your holiday budget (US $165 per person).

We decide to straight away drive to Universal Studios, because the park is open until 22.00pm tonight. Better even, tonight's program includes the Mardi Gras parade and an action of Fall Out Boy.

When we arrive at the parking around 16.30 (US $20 per day - US $5 if you arrive after 6pm), we're surprised to see that we're certainly don't belong to the late arrivals. When we enter the amusement park itself, we get hit in the face and the thought of turning back around crosses our mind. We walk in to a huge crowd of people. All the streets are completely crowded and the wait for rides and attractions start from 40 minutes.

We decide to start at the end of Universal Studios theme park, where the new mounted piece of 'The wizarding world of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley' is located. Here you walk straight into a lifelike world of the young wizard. It's so extremely detailed and well thought through, we don't even know where to start admiring this dreamlike place. There is even a real flaming steer on the roof of the Gringotts bank. At 'Ollivanders' future wizards can buy a magic wand and develop their tricks on various interactive places.

Finally Diagon Alley also contains thrilling ride where you will experience a hellish multi-dimensional journey through the goblin-bank. Beware, all backpacks and bags must first be stored in a (free) locker, otherwise you will be told off inexorably.

The 'Men in Black alien attack' and 'Terminator 3D' rides have been in the Universal Studios theme park for over ten years in, but never lose their charm.

Around 19.45pm the colorful Mardi Gras parade passes through and we marvel at all beautifully decorated vehicles, the flamboyant clothed characters and the frantic American spectators who let their freak flags fly.

We conclude the evening with 'Transformers 3D', an impressive journey in which we will be sucked into the fight against Megatron and the Deceptions. All your senses will be put to the test simultaneously and sensitive stomachs may better not be taking part in this adventure.

When leaving the parking we get stuck in heavy traffic and it takes way over an hour to get back to the hotel. Time your departure, sounds like some advice we could have used.

Universal Studios Florida 1

photos universal studios in florida

Pictures - photos Universal Studios in Florida 1

Sunday the 28th of February 2016:

Universal Studios

Today as well, Universal Studios listed on the program. Fortunately, it's a lot less busy compared to yesterday and so, we can fully enjoy the gorgeous film sets from New York, San Francisco and Hollywood.

We go for an easy start and watch the funny multi-dimensional animation film 'Shrek - 4D'. In the film, Shrek and Donkey try to free the kidnapped princess from the appalling Lord Farquaad.

Then we go back to the magical Harry Potter world, where we now have enough space and sunlight to shoot some good shots. The delicious looking ice creams catch our eyes and we can't resist. Yummie!

The waiting time to most of the attractions is now only ten minutes, so we can slowly, in our own pace, tick off our to-do list.

Some of the highlights of the day are the mega funny 'Horror make-up show', the surprising 'Simpsons Ride' where you get the feeling that you really are in a rollercoaster and the hilarious 'Despicable Me Minion Mayhem' 3D-ride, that makes us grin so much, our faces hurt.

In between all of it, we enjoy the passing parades and great performances, filling up our day to the extreme.

In addition to the high prices for food and drinks is that we need to leave out the 'Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit' rollercoaster ride. This attraction doesn't even allow bum bags and everything must be stowed in a locker. Leaving our passports, bank cards and cash in an unprotected space, however, is something we don't feel comfortable with in the slightest.

photos universal studios in florida

Pictures - photos Universal Studios in Florida 2

Monday the 29th of February 2016:

Islands or adventure, the second amusement park of the Universal Studio Group

Islands Of Adventure is the second amusement park of the Universal Studio Group on our program. After we have paid US $20 for the parking and our bags get checked thoroughly at the entrance, we enter a colorful and imaginative world. We feel happy immediately!

This park is divided in different themes and just like most other visitors we cross straight to 'The wizarding world of Harry Potter - Hogsmeade'. Which is located all the way to the rear end.

Like at Universal Studios we get into the magical world of Harry Potter, where apprentice sorcerers try their new wand on numerous practice places and shop windows.

Within Hogs Meade there are two Top attractions to be found. On the one hand, there is the Dragon Challenge, a hysterical roller coaster for lovers of rotation. On the other hand, there is the brand new attraction 'Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey', where, by the use of 3D and other high-tech applications, you have the impression that you're whirling through Hogwarts Castle. Very impressive, but not recommended for people suffering from motion sickness or a sensitive stomach.

The rest of the day we wander through the other regions's such as Marvel Super Hero Island, Jurassic Park and the Lost Continent each with their own theme and style. View Lagoon and Seusse Landing are more directed to children, but by the cheerful colours and original design is also for adults, fun to visit.

Since we don't really feel like getting wet, we skip the two water attractions (read tree trunks and wild water rivers). Many visitors, however don't miss out on this adventure and some of them, really get back, soaking wet. Fortunately, there are some giant drying machines at your disposal, where you can easily fit in with four people. (US $5)

A bit unlucky, because the Jurassic Park River adventure and The Incredible Hulk Coaster are out of order, due to maintenance. There is also a new attraction (Skull Island: Reign of Kong) under construction which looks promising. Great excuse to come back in a few years!

Around 16.00pm we've already seen the whole park and decide to lubricating our dry throats in the Hard Rock Cafe. We blink with our eyes, by hearing the price of US $10 for a pint and a cola in plastic cups, but oh well... you only live once!

We conclude the day on the Universal City Walk, an area full of bars, restaurants and souvenir shops, that's located right next to the two theme parks. We follow the tip of an insider and find ourselves at Pat O'Brien's, a restaurant with a cozy courtyard garden, serving a combination of the Irish kitchen and New Orleans. When our nachos are served as a starter, we start to panic a little bit, these portions are outrageous! Immediately thereafter our craw fish is served and as we're feared we can't finish it all. Our stomachs can't consume the amount of food to this extent!

Tired, but satisfied, we return to Celebration Suites at old town Orlando, where we spend our last night in Kissimmee.

Universal Studios - Islands or adventure in Florida

universal studios Islands of Adventure florida

Pictures - photos Universal Studios - Islands of Adventure in Florida

Tuesday the 1st of March 2016:

From Orlando to Crystal River on the west coast of Florida to snorkel with manatees

We leave all the glitter, glamour and bling in Orlando as it is and drive a good two hours across Florida towards Crystal River, which is situated on the west coast of Florida.

Here we stay three nights in the recently opened Hampton Inn, which has very high review scores on various booking websites. We can only agree. The lobby looks stylish and the rooms are very spacious, decorated with modern furniture.

Then we drive to the diving school American Pro Diving, which is only a few minutes away from the hotel. We quickly sort out the administration for the following days. The next two days we're going snorkeling with Manatees. We pay US $52.5 per person for the trip to Crystal River and US $64.5 per person for the Homosassa tour. All snorkeling equipment is included in the price.

This afternoon we chill out by the pool and enjoy the sunshine. For dinner we're going to Charlie's Fish House, known for the best seafood restaurant in this region. We treat ourselves to fried turbot and a large portion of crab legs. During this tasty meal, we can keep up with the basketball or follow the presidential elections on various flat screens on the wall. Americans, apparently, can't go even one minute without their TV's!

We crawl in bed on time, as tomorrow our alarms wills go off unrelentingly.

Wednesday the 2nd of March 2016:

Snorkeling with Manatees in Crystal River on the west coast of Florida

At Hampton Inn we can, again enjoy a generous buffet breakfast that includes eggs, sausages, fresh fruit, waffles, toast, coffee cake, cornflakes and more.

We check-in at American Pro Diving at 7.00am. First, we try on and find the right size wetsuits and fins. Then watch a little instruction video with rules regarding the snorkeling with Manatees, which comes down to just observing the Manatees. Touching, horse riding, blocking the path, trying to separate mother and child and any other distortions are obviously prohibited.

With a private car, we then drive to Pete's Pier, where we park the car (US $5) and step on board towards the nearby Kings Bay. We'd expected to go snorkeling in a river in a somewhat green environment, but Kings Bay is fully surrounded by small houses. A very strange experience to find Manatees in such a setting.

kings bay crystal river manatees

When we arrive at our location around 8.00am, there are already a few other boats with snorkelers in the bay. We let ourselves slip in to the shallow, slightly cold water, very carefully. This to prevent causing sand clouds, to eventually swim up to a group of ten people, who have spotted an eating Manatee.

As it is the only Manatee in the near vicinity at this time, of course, everyone tries to find the best possible view of the animal. It is therefore a real matter of finding the correct way to maneuver between the arms and legs of the other snorkelers. We also have a quiet turbid water, which causes rather limited visibility.

The manatee doesn't seem to be bothered by all the snoopers and slowly consumes its meal. It comes up to the surface to gasp for breath, occasionally and that of course, is the time to shoot some photos. After a while the Manatee is saturated and makes an unexpected move, which causes a lot of sand displacement, making it easy for the Manatee to escape and disappear in front of the eyes of the group.

Next, we snorkel a bit closer to the surface and later at a deeper place in the bay, where we come across multiple fish, but unfortunately, no traces, nor Manatees are found.

We lift ourselves back on board and expect to have a look a bit further down the river, to maybe find more of these animals, but surprisingly start heading back to the wharf. We get back on land at 9.45am and are a little disappointed. After all, we've paid over US $50 to only see one Manatee turbid water. Hopefully the visibility will be improved tomorrow. Fingers crossed!

Back at the hotel we first take a hot shower to warm up a little and spend a lazy afternoon, relaxing and lounging at the swimming pool.

This night, we explore Cracker's Bar & Grill, where we order a large ribeye and a mega hamburger. Tasty, but massive! Not very surprising, that most Americans suffer from obesity.

Snorkeling with Manatees in Crystal River in Florida

manatees florida usa crystal river

Pictures - photos snorkelen met manatees in Florida - Crystal River

Thursday the 3rd of March 2016:

Snorkeling with Manatees in Homosassa in Florida

Today we're expected at 6.30 at American Pro Diving for our Homosassa Manatee snorkel tour. A painfully early rise!

Snorkeling with Manatees in Homosassa in Florida

florida usa homosassa manatees

Pictures - photos van Homosassa manatees in Florida de USA

Just like yesterday we share the boat only with two other people, so we have plenty of space to lay down all the equipment and to change clothes. In addition, we're the only boat at this location today. Snorkeling with only four people, in Homosassa, is awesome! No sharing views, nor Manatees today.

After 15 minutes, we come across a mother Manatee with her little one. We slip in to the water carefully and watch the duo for a while. Once they're sick and tired of our company, they make some powerful strokes with their tail and gone they are.

Our guide gets us back on board, so that we can find some more Manatees elsewhere. Which we find quite quickly and again we observe these interesting animals on a very near distance. Perfect for some photos.

Finally, we go in to the water for a last time and find multiple Manatees circling around the boat. The younger animals are quite curious and come to play with us. With their small fins, they even cling to our legs and roll themselves on their back, so that we can pet their enormous belly. An amazing experience, that goes way above our expectations.

When the last animals have disappeared, we're extremely cold and step back on board and start sailing back to the starting point. On the way, we take on a bit of an illegal passenger, that causes some great entertainment. A little frog hit up our guide and now keeps sticking its body to the guid. A funny ending of a super fun trip.

Around 9.15 we return, set foot on land and drive back to the diving school to hand in our rented equipment and purchase some nice shirts.

Our conclusion: the trip to Kings Bay is not really worth the effort and costs, in comparison a lot of money. The less densely populated Homosassa tour is much more interesting. This trip however, only leaves in the winter months until mid-March. After that, the temperature rises and the Manatees slowly disappear from the river.

In the afternoon, we make a short trip to Fort Island Gulf Beach, a beautiful secluded public beach with fine sand and walking pier.

At night we go back to eat at Charlieés Fish House, where we enjoy the delicious fish and tasty crab legs, one last time.

Diving with Manatees in Homosassa in Florida

manatees florida usa homosassa

Pictures - photos duiken met manatees in Florida - Homosassa

Friday the 4th of March 2016:

Of Crystal River to Bonita Springs with a stopover in Clearwater

In good spirits, we start our longest journey of this trip. Today we drive all the way from Crystal River to Bonita Springs, a southern seaside located between Fort Myers and Naples. The first part of the trip we drive via highway 19, which actually is an interlinking of traffic lights and suspiciously similar to our Boomsesteenweg. Progression is hard to find!

When we've driven for about 1/3, we make a short stopover in Clearwater. This beach has recently been voted as the most beautiful beach in Florida. The choice seems fair indeed, as the beach has very fine and almost white sand. The rest of the coastline is crammed up with hotels, villas and other impressive buildings, to which access is secured via electrical gates. Beautiful beach scenes or a view of the various small marinas are obviously, but unfortunately hidden for the general public.

Then we make a big error! We cut off the toll road to the south, but now have to make a massive detour via St. Petersburg and Tampa. After that, we continue our drive via the car trade, which only, have really dull views to offer. Boring.

Around 16.00pm we finally arrive in Bonita Springs, where we stay at the Hampton Inn hotel. The rooms are slightly less recent than that of the previous hotel in Crystal River, but the service and kindness of the staff here as well, are of high standards.

For dinner, the receptionist recommends us a nearby Mexican restaurant named Iguana Mia. The tasty margaritas, well-stocked burritos, delicious tacos and much other tasty dishes have been a hit, yet again. Definitely recommended!

Stopover in Clearwater and then to Bonita Springs in Florida

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Pictures - Photo's of clear water and Bonita Springs in Florida the USA

Saturday the 5th of March 2016:

The Everglades

Today we cross Florida from west to east through the Tamiami Trail (highway 41), which is just next to the national park of the Everglades. This break of the busy traffic and only one lane per direction feel like breathing in fresh air.

During the trip, we pass by the Mangrove forest and rich waterscape and here and there we also spot some birds. Unfortunately, there are no real viewpoints equipped, so we can't stop and are obligated to keep driving.

At the (west) side of Naples there are a number of airboat companies, which are specialized in tours through the Mangrove forest. Along the (eastern) side of Miami there are airboat operators, mainly active in boat trips on the grassy River.

Based on the information we've collected earlier, we choose to go to Gator Park. The alligator show, in addition to the airboat tours, didn't make this a tough decision. After we've purchased our ticket (US $25 per person including earplugs), we can almost immediately take a seat on board. We are, however, put together with a large group of Japanese tourists, which leaves us with 30 persons on one little boat. The worst is, that we're seated on the penultimate row, which means that our view of the surrounding area gets limited severely.

First, we cruise quietly through a bit of the Mangrove, where we already get to see a few small alligators and water birds. Then we get to the river, where the coxswain sets in the propeller at full power, which causes a deafening noise, with which we speed over the grass river. He also doesn't stop the rotating movements, which allow us to have a better overview of the surroundings. The splashing water has a cooling effect.

Along the way, we spot some baby alligators, but as they are on the other side of the boat, we don't really get to see them. The mate doesn't even make any attempt, to turn around the boat, so that everyone gets the opportunity to get some good shots. Very disappointing!

In the end, the trip only took 30 minutes, and so, after a half hour we get back to the shore, fairly disappointed. Ten years ago, we made a similar trip, which then took much longer and got see way more animals.

Next, we are invited for an educational alligator show, which is hold by a member of staff that doesn't seem to have his day. He doesn't seem motivated nor enthusiastic and his presentation is rather boring. He doesn't even bother to hide his shitty mood and rather denigrates his audience.

Finally, our ticket entitles us to a photo in which we may hold a young (silenced) alligator. A small height light, after the disappointing experience at Gator Park.

We continue our trip to the south and arrive around 16.00pm in Key Largo. We check in at Bayside Inn, a rather shabby hotel with warn out rooms. At the rear end of the hotel, there's a mini-beach, on which you'll find Tiki bar. Here you can sip on a refreshing cocktail overlooking the Florida Bay. Delicious!!!

The Everglades National Park in Florida

florida usa everglades national park

Pictures - Photos of the Everglades National Park in Florida the USA

Even though there are quite some clouds, on Key Largo we can still enjoy a beautiful sunset which colours the sky completely pink.

This evening meal, we've chosen for the Fish House, a local seafood restaurant with a solid reputation. Our bellies are richly spoiled with a delicious fish soup, a sublime ready-made hog fish (a type of snapper) and a delicious rice dish with scampi and St Jacob fruit. Without doubt, the best and most delicious meal of this holiday!

Key Largo in Florida

florida usa key largo

Pictures - Photo's of Key Largo in Florida the USA

Sunday the 6th of March 2016:

Of Key Largo to Key West

Under a radiant sun, we leave Key Largo and make our way to Key West, the most southern point of the USA. It's a journey of more than 150 miles through different islands which are connected with enormous bridges. The longest bridge even, is seven miles long, so when crossing, you have quite some time, to enjoy the beautiful turquoise water on both your left and right side.

The journey takes a little over two hours and around noon we arrive at the Best Western Ambassador Hotel King Hotel on the south side of Key West. The room looks fabulous and we even have a small terrace with a view of the beautiful swimming pool.

At the reception, we ask for the place that serves the best Key Lime Pie and drive straight towards the cozy city centre to test this popular, guilty pleasure. On our way, we spot a small, free parking at Fort street. We leave our car here and walk towards the Blue Heaven restaurant in Petronia Railway Station Street.

When we enter the domain through a courtyard garden, we walk in to a very relaxed and comfy atmosphere. There is a live band playing, everyone hangs around the bar with a cocktail or beer and the walls are filled with knick knacks and artwork. It almost feels as if we travelled back in time to the sixties. Awesome!

Key West in Florida 1

florida usa key west

Pictures - Photo's of Key West in Florida the USA

We order a cocktail and a piece of the Key Lime Pie at the bar and can genuinely confirm that this is the best Key Lime Pie we've ever eaten. Although, for US $9.5, this was somewhat expected.

Next, we walk towards Duval Street, the main street and vibrant centre of this cozy little town. The street is lined up with bars, shops and restaurant and the many tourists are clearly here to party. Key West is for many Americans the ultimate holiday destination.

Around 5 pm we hop in a Mexican restaurant for a quick bite, because the 'Celebration Sunset' starts at 6 p.m. on the southern Mallory Square. And this, we want to experience. Key West is worldwide known for its spectacular sunset. There are even special sunset cruises organized, so you get to see the whole happening from the first row.

Unfortunately, we're too late to see the sun disappearing the sea, but the red glow that's left behind, has projected a truly magical moment. In the meantime, several street performers have appeared on the square to show their tricks to the numerous tourists.

After a long day, we return tired, but satisfied back to the hotel. Here we've got a less exciting task to tackle, packing our bags. Our trip has come to an end and tomorrow we're flying home.

Key West in Florida 2

florida usa key west

Pictures - Photos of Key West in Florida the USA

Monday the 7th of March 2016:

To Miami airport with flight to Brussels

After breakfast, we get our last tan on at the swimming pool and around noon we go back to Blue Heaven for a very last Key Lime pie. Yummie!

Key West in Florida 3

florida usa key west

Pictures - Photos of Key West in Florida the USA

Then we start our four-hour trip to the airport in Miami. The first part is a long scenic highway with various islands. Once we are back on the mainland, it's rather boring as there's not much to see or experience.

When the GPS sends us in a totally wrong direction and strand in a residential area, instead of at the airport, we're only a little stressed! We lose more than half an hour, but in the end, arrive at our final destination.

After we've returned the rental car (with 1700 miles on the odometer), we put back on our Belgian outfit: flip flops get replaced by shoes and socks, shorts by long trousers and t-shirts for jumpers.

At the check-in, we are once again being faced with the emerging automation in the airport sector. We scan our passport ourselves and based on that, our boarding passes automatically get printed off. Followed by the luggage stickers, which we must attach to our suitcases ourselves.

Then we hand in our suitcases at the manned counter of American Airlines, where we are told we the luggage is 2 kilograms above the maximum weight. We are required to either pay extra or take out some luggage and shuffle it in our hand luggage (as apparently, there's restriction on that). We hurl the suitcases open on site, mess around a little, take out the somewhat heavier stuff and cram it all in an additional plastic bag. The logic behind this, just doesn't make any sense!

In the end, we're still have a kilogram over and after a heated discussion with the flight attended, the manager is brought in. Spicy detail: when the suitcases are put on a different scale, it doesn't show the same number as the first scale. The lady of American Airlines refuses to recognize this and remains stoically to her desk. In terms of customer-friendliness this definitely is a massive below standard!

And our agony hasn't ended yet. At security, a long line has queued up and they all still have to go through the metal detector. Our boarding starts in 30 minutes and they don't seem to be in a hurry. Stress, once again!

We run to the gate and soon get informed that the flight is delayed by 1 hour and 20 minutes due to technical repairs. We stressed and rushed for nothing!

At 22.00pm we eventually take off in Miami, to safely land in London, eight hours later. Here we have two hours before our transit for the last short flight to Brussels.

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