The Florida Off-Season: The Good, The Bad, and The Downright Ugly

Sanibel Island
Sanibel Island

Kyle and I love to travel during the “off-season.” We’ve visited some great places—and snagged some pretty impressive deals—during regional quiet times. We went to Alaska at the very end of their tourist season, and not only was the cruise deeply discounted, but everything was on sale in all the ports, as the shops would be closing for months. We always love going to Maine in late October, where we can enjoy light crowds, cheap beachfront hotel rooms, and the last dregs of fall foliage. Yes, off-season travel has always been pretty appealing to us. But last week, we learned a very important lesson. Sometimes it’s called “off-season” for a reason. Why we chose to go to Florida at the end of August now baffles me! We’d been to the same area in July several years ago and while it was hot, I don’t remember anything particularly bad about that trip—in fact, I remember it as one of the best trips we’ve taken. Check out my blog on our adventures on Sanibel Island, including the awesome time we had on the Sanibel Thriller dolphin speedboat tour.

Well, there were no speedboats for us this time! That’s actually the sole reason I wanted to go back to Sanibel – to take that tour and get lots of awesome footage with our GoPro. Sad, but true! We found out they are closed until October. As are many, MANY of the other attractions and even restaurants in the area. Likely, all Floridians are migrating north where cooler temperatures prevail. I find it rather laughable now that all summer I’ve been complaining that it just doesn’t feel like summer. 60s and rain does not a July day make. I got more summer in the six days we spent in Florida than I need in an entire decade! I have come to the conclusion that in August, Florida sits directly on the surface of the sun! Each day we were there, temperatures were in the high 90s with humidity hovering around 100%. When you walked outside in the morning, it was hard to catch your breath. And it rained violently every afternoon just to stabilize the atmosphere. So, now that we’ve established the fact that our long-awaited first trip after saving for nearly a year for our round-the-world trip wasn’t at all what we expected it would be, I’ve rounded up a few things to share—the good, the bad, and the downright ugly—from last week’s visit to Walt Disney World and Sanibel Island.

Walt Disney World

The Good

Disney’s Space Mountain! O.K. can we just talk about this awesome ride?! I’ve gotten somewhat addicted to roller coasters from the handful of trips we’ve taken to Hershey Park in Pa. over the last few years, and I was pretty disappointed that Disney didn’t have more adrenaline-pumping attractions. But O.M.G. I loved this ride—all three times I went on it! There’s something about barreling through total darkness that’s exhilarating.

The Bad

Disney hath Frozen over! So, I like Frozen as much as the next person (alright, probably way less, actually), but WOW! Everywhere you looked, dozens of little girls dressed up as Elsa congregated in the streets… in lines for rides… in shops that sold Frozen merchandise. Disney’s Hollywood Studios converted into a Nordic winter wonderland around mid-morning, blowing “snow” in the air, and throwing a Frozen parade. To top it all off, each night before the Magic Kingdom firework display, there’s a projection show on Cinderella’s Castle, which is actually pretty cool. The last couple minutes, however, are dedicated to Idina Menzel, belting the lyrics to “Let It Go” (you’re welcome!) – and the whole park erupts in applause and sings in unison. I’ve got nothing against the movie or Idina—I absolutely adore her in Wicked—but, holy goodness! Enough is enough! Let’s pay a little attention to some of our favorite WAY underrepresented movies like Aladdin and The Lion King. I wanted to see Simba! (If you couldn’t tell, that one was a bit tongue-in-cheek!)

The Ugly

Hurry up and wait. We chose to stay at one of Disney’s many resorts (we chose All-Star Sports) just because of the convenience—or so we thought. Disney has buses that run to the various parks on a 15-20-minute circuit. I kid you not, we waited no less than 45 minutes for each and every bus, either from our hotel to a park, or from a park to another park. On a 97-degree afternoon, we were leaving Hollywood Studios to go to Animal Kingdom and waited for what must have been close to an hour in the blazing sun. We had already seen several people pass out in the park. I couldn’t breathe, I was so hot – I just sat down on a bench and started to cry. It was horrible! They really need to work out their bus situation. People can’t be wasting hours of their precious little vacation time waiting for the buses to show up. Kyle went to Disney five years ago, and said he didn’t remember anything like that – but this time was very bad!

Another fee—seriously!? Allow me to complain for a second about the ridiculous way Disney sets up their dinner reservations. We didn’t buy a meal plan, so we were paying for all our food as we went along. I get that for a place that sees literally tens of thousands of visitors a day, the eateries need to have reservation systems. But seriously, what is up with this 24-hour cancellation policy and $10 per person charge if you don’t show up or cancel within that window?! You can’t tell me you’re not going to recoup that money and then some! There was one particular meal where we didn’t have a reservation, and waited in line forever to see if a table was available. It was a buffet, and I wanted to scope out the food before agreeing to pay $37/pp for dinner, so the girl told me I could put my name in and then take a “tour” of the dining room. She took my info, and I asked her if I just let her know that we don’t want to eat there if I didn’t like the look of the food. She said I’d just made a reservation and would have to pay the $10/pp fee. I think not! I told her to cancel it, and she had to put a note in that I was “sick” so we didn’t get charged. To me, that’s a very off-putting policy and certainly doesn’t make me want to spend any more money there.

But hey, I found Nemo!

Sanibel Island

The Good

Good Times and Seashells. We went to Ft. Myers Beach (roughly 20 minutes from Sanibel) one of the mornings of our trip. We’d been there to parasail and Jet Ski with dolphins several years ago. This time we did a shelling cruise with Good Time Charters. It was a leisurely 3-hour boat trip in the early-ish morning before it got too hot. On the way to a small island, we spotted dolphins and manatees playing in the sound. Once on the island that’s only accessible by boat, we found lots of shells that hadn’t been picked up by morning beach-goes, like the beaches of Sanibel. I collected all kinds of conch shells—and Kyle picked up a nice bee sting! Poor guy! It was overall a fun day, though.

The Bad

So, do you not want tourists?! This trip to Sanibel Island was markedly different than our last. Apparently EVERYTHING closes at the end of August and re-opens in October. We did get to go to our favorite restaurant, Mad Hatter, for our anniversary (August 31), but they appeared to be closed for the rest of our stay. Many restaurants shut their doors on September 1, so it was extremely hard to find food. We had ice cream one night, and pizza delivered another. One evening, we tried to go to a restaurant, and once seated we decided we just wanted dessert, and the waitress told us we’d have to go sit at the bar for that (and there were only 3 of the 50-some tables occupied). Another day, we went somewhere for breakfast and they kicked us out of the restaurant for arriving too early, even though their doors were wide open. I’m sorry… I just have a problem spending money where I can clearly tell I’m more of a burden than a customer they’re happy to see. This is their down time, and they relish it. They didn’t need or want us there. Just another reason we won’t be returning during Sanibel’s off-season!

The Ugly

Don’t always trust the GPS lady. I know—she gets really angry when you defy her. But she does NOT always know best. This is a very good lesson to apply to any trip, really. We choose to fly into Orlando and drive 3.5 hours to Sanibel Island (since it was roughly half the price to fly there, and I had never been to Disney). I foolishly figured we’d be driving interstates—the map appeared to be a straight shot. Well, the GPS lady picked the shortest route which happened to go through all these little podunk towns, where speed limits change from 60 to 40 to 30 to 50 to 30 to 60 at whim, with no indication whatsoever. I got pulled over for the first time in my entire life—and on our anniversary, no less! The cop took a massive amount of pity on me and dropped my speeding ticket (23mph over!) to a ticket for failing to obey a sign – WHERE WAS IT!? Needless to say, we ignored the incessant demands of the GPS lady on the way back to Orlando and took the slightly longer route where you could go 70 the entire way without hesitation. Seriously, if you’re unfamiliar with the area, really look at the GPS route before embarking on your journey.

Until next time, Sanibel!

Places

Walt Disney World

Walt Disney World Resort, Lake Buena Vista, FL, United States
(407) 939-5277

Sanibel Inn

Sanibel Inn, East Gulf Drive, Sanibel, FL, United States
239-472-5170

Mad Hatter

The Mad Hatter, Sanibel Captiva Road, Sanibel, FL, United States
239.472.0033

Good Time Charters

4765 Estero Boulevard, Fort Myers Beach, FL, United States
(239) 218-8014

Walt Disney World

Walt Disney World Resort, Lake Buena Vista, FL, United States
(407) 939-5277
https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/

Sanibel Inn

Sanibel Inn, East Gulf Drive, Sanibel, FL, United States
239-472-5170
http://www.theinnsofsanibel.com/sanibelinn/

Mad Hatter

The Mad Hatter, Sanibel Captiva Road, Sanibel, FL, United States
239.472.0033
http://www.madhatterrestaurant.com/

Good Time Charters

4765 Estero Boulevard, Fort Myers Beach, FL, United States
(239) 218-8014
http://goodtimecharter.com/

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