Part of our cruise deal included some onboard credit – so we traded it in for a Florida Everglades tour. $79 (each) buys an airboat tour and a visit to Flamingo Gardens. Equally important is that the Everglades tour ends at Miami Airport – from where we will be flying home tomorrow night.
Unfortunately this means getting up at 5:45am to ensure we can finish packing and have some breakfast before meeting our tour group at 8am in the Princess Theatre. Leaving Sky Princess is relatively smooth and the Port Everglades terminal works well – until we walk out the door.
Outside is chaos, with people trying to board buses, hail cabs, call an Uber or collect their own cars. Even the process of finding and boarding our tour bus is a complete disaster. It is no small relief when we finally take our seats on the air conditioned coach and pull away from the port.
Top tip: You can pick up a transfer bus from the Port Everglades cruise terminal to Ft Lauderdale Hollywood Airport for $11.50 per person or Miami International Airport for $25pp. You don’t need to book in advance, but the queues are extremely long and chaotic.
Juan, our tour guide, provides a running commentary about Florida, majoring on the invasive and non-native flora and fauna that can be found in the state. Meanwhile Herman, our driver, does multiple loops and double-backs which is a little bit weird. I think Juan was supposed to be telling us about various Fort Lauderdale sights as we drove past – but he was in his flow talking about Florida generalities.
Juan does tell us that the Everglades are not a swamp – they are a river.
Best airboat tour?
After driving around for a while, our coach pulls into the Everglades Holiday Park. Juan instructs us to hang around the shop/cafe/toilet building until our group is called. The area is swarming with cruise guests – unsurprising as I counted five ships in port today.
After a long wait we are ushered onto an airboat by an enthusiastic ‘Captain Dillon’ who insists that the quality of his Everglades tour is directly proportional to the enthusiasm of his guests. I hope for his sake the boat doesn’t contain too many Brits.
Captain Dillon insists that driving boats on the Everglades is dangerous, so he needs a co-captain just in case something happens to him. For some reason I am nominated Captain Ben, allowing Captain Dillon to pepper his talk with jokes about his co-captain.
Two enormous Cadillac engines power a pair of large propellers mounted at the back of the boat, pushing it along the surface of the water at great speed. Captain Dillon delivers a running commentary about the wildlife of the Everglades and how the canals came to be built. He punctuates each of his points with a loud rev of the engine.
We do two ridiculously fast runs along the canals and several slow pirouettes in between, hoping to see some ‘gators’. In the end, all we see is a buzzard and a heron. The fresh, cool breeze as we speed along is pleasant though.
Was this the best airboat tour in Florida? We didn’t see any alligators, so that was hugely disappointing. At least Captain Dillon was amusing. ‘If you enjoyed the tour, remember me, Captain Dillon,’ he ends, ‘And if you didn’t my name is Captain Ben.‘
Back on dock, Juan hurries us back to the bus. Apparently we are running behind schedule and two of our fellow guests have to be at the airport by 2pm.
Where is the Florida bear?
A short drive takes us to Flamingo Gardens, a not-for-profit mini-zoo. we have less than an hour before we have to leave, but the park is quite small and we have enough time to look at all of the animals twice.
At least we do get to see two alligators.
There are also several huge iguanas wandering around the park which is pretty cool too.
Then there’s a giant African spurred tortoise who lets us stroke his head.
And some otters that want to show off in their glass-fronted tank.
And a peacock who wants to follow us around the park.
And a talking crow that yells ‘hello’ until you try to video him.
The only disappointment is the Brown Bear who is sulking in his house so we don’t get to see him.
As we re-board the coach, two ladies are handing out ice cream sandwiches which is a really nice touch.
Miami Airport Transfer and a Shoddy Sheraton
At the end of our Florida Everglades tour, Juan and Herman drop us at Miami International Airport, pointing us in the direction of the local hotel shuttles. After a short wait, we spot the Sheraton shuttle and clamber aboard. The driver collects a few more passengers from the other airport terminal and then drives us over to the Sheraton Miami Airport.
Top tip: Many of the local hotels provide free shuttle buses – just wait at the bus stop outside your terminal until you see one for your hotel. You will of course be expected to tip your driver.
At ~£160 GBP per night, this hotel is not cheap, particularly as breakfast is not included. It’s also not particularly good value – I would say the quality is somewhere between a Travelodge and a Premier Inn. The room is big, but quite basic, bar the provision of USB charging points everywhere. The furniture feels a little dated and tired and the double-glazed window unit has blown, so we don’t have a good view out the window which is a blessing and a curse.
It’s a blessing because the rolling green fields of the golf course at the rear of the property have been ripped up in the last few weeks so David Beckham can build a new stadium/hotel complex for Inter Miami FC. A curse because jumbo jets and A380s keep flying low above our room – and we can’t see them clearly.
There is one main reason I chose the Sheraton – it’s just across the road from the Miami Airport metro station. This means it should be easy to get into downtown Miami tomorrow when we go out to explore. We also have the option of catching the MIA Mover train to the airport tomorrow if there are any problems with the hotel shuttle.
Top tip: All public transport in central Miami is free of charge until December 31st 2023. Read more here.
Rather than try the Sheraton’s in-house restaurant, we take a gamble on GrubHub and order a KFC delivery. We end up with a sharing meal for two that includes four pieces of chicken, four dips, a pile of crispy fries, some chicken bits and four ‘biscuits’. Or as we Brits call them, scones. Despite my cynicism (chicken and scones?!) they are very tasty and I would definitely eat them again.
Tomorrow we will visit the local Hard Rock Café and probably try and find a Bath & Bodyworks while we’re at it.