Amy and I had a wonderful time vacationing in Florida with my family. We visited Cedar Key along Florida's hidden coast and stayed the rest of the time in Redington Beach. The BP oil spill had not yet reached the coast there, but almost every Floridian we talked to was bracing for environmental and economic disaster.
We experienced the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem by boat on three different occasions. Amy and I paddled a tandem kayak from Cedar Key out to Atsena Otie Key and Snake Key, two islands within the Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge. We encountered great egrets, cormorants, and a pod of dolphins that swam within 10 yards of our kayak. The kayak was provided at no extra charge by Faraway Inn, a nice place to stay in Cedar Key. Vsiting the Shell Mound, built over 3,000 years by Native Americans, was another highlight from our time in Cedar Key.
For our second excursion, we headed to Manatee Springs State Park where we rented a canoe to explore the springs and the Suwannee River. We were amazed by the clear blue water of the springs, the cypress trees covered with Spanish moss, the sturgeon leaping out of the river, and the amount of sunbathing turtles and alligators.
We were sad that we didn't see any manatees at Manatee Springs or in the Suwannee River, but my family and I saw a couple manatees on the third paddling excursion at Fort De Soto Park. They were eating near Soldier's Hole in Mullet Key Bayou, and we caught glimpses of them when they surfaced to breathe.