Every year I do a recap post going back over everything that’s happened the previous year on this site; the places we’ve been, the experiences we’ve had, and everything I’ve wanted to share from our year’s travels.
2020 had both so much more and so much less going on; the whole world completely changed. We obviously traveled much less outside of our home state, but we did manage to see much more of Florida than we usually do. Everything we knew about travel – from the way we booked to the destinations we chose – was different and we had to pivot and adapt and make the best of it.
I wanted to write this post this year as I have done with previous years even though it’s not going to quite be the same. I still want to share the small amounts of local travel we did do, but I also want to talk about the changes to travel and how things might look going forward.
Everglades National Park with kids
Back in February, which seems like a lifetime ago now, we took our last family vacation before everything changed. We visited Everglades National Park and had an absolutely fantastic time.
Everglades National Park is a wonderful place to visit with kids and has remained somewhere I’ve recommended people in Florida visit this year if they’re looking for a socially distant Florida vacation.
Our favorite part of the park was Shark Valley Visitor Center, which is a great place to see the park by tram, bicycle or on foot. We saw the most alligators around this part of the park, including a mommy alligator and her babies.
This is a fantastic National Park for seeing wildlife; as well as alligators, we saw manatees and so many different types of birds. It’s a short drive from Miami (less than 30 minutes) and about 4 hours from Orlando.
Months later, I took a completely different type of vacation and headed down to Key West. This was a solo trip, something I’ve never really done before, but I wasn’t ready to travel with the kids at that point so decided to travel alone.
Although this trip took the same kind of route down the Florida coast as my Everglades trip in February, the vacation was entirely different.
I brought multiple face masks, hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes. I checked hotel policies before arrival and researched local regulations to make sure I’d feel safe. I sought out outdoor dining locations and socially distant activities.
It was a completely different travel experience, but it was still amazing to visit somewhere new after being at home for so long.
Key West was an amazing place to visit in 2020. There was an abundance of outdoor activities, plenty of amazing outdoor dining locations, and I was made to feel very safe and very welcome.
Vero Beach and Sebastian Inlet State Park
In the summer we were lucky enough to be offered a family member’s beach house to visit when we liked. I had avoided the beach with the kids up until then; I couldn’t imagine how we could possibly visit without needing to go in public bathrooms or places to get food so we just didn’t go.
But with the offer of a beach house – literally on the beach – we could take the kids to the beach without worrying about any of that. The bathroom and snacks would be walking distance away, and the beach itself was virtually deserted.
The kids were ecstatic to be out of the house and I was so happy to stand with my feet in the ocean after months of staying home with my feet in slippers.
Hands down the best moment of our Vero Beach trips came one morning when Grayson and I went for a walk on the beach to watch the sunrise. We’d done this most mornings since he’s always up early, and loved watching the sun come up over the ocean.
But one day we were greeted by a couple of people on the beach (unusual in itself because we always had the beach to ourselves) eagerly pointing out the hundreds of baby turtles hatching from their nest and making their way slowly down towards the ocean.
I’ve wanted to watch baby turtles hatch all my life and coming across it completely out of nowhere was amazing. We got to see them dig their way out of the sand, head down the beach and then out into the ocean.
Grayson was transfixed and honestly I was too; the turtles were so small but knew exactly where to go and what to do. It was incredible, and I documented the whole process in a post about watching sea turtles hatch in Florida.
Another memorable summer moment happened when we visited Sebastian Inlet State Park. This is a Florida State Park about 30 minutes outside of Vero Beach that was recommended to me as a good place for kids to practice snorkeling.
Harrison had been learning to snorkel over the summer, first in the paddling pool in the back yard and then in the community pool when it was empty. But he was ready to try the ocean, and I wanted to find somewhere with calm waters for him.
Sebastian Inlet State Park has an amazing tide pool that is perfect for snorkeling. The water is calm and warm with only the slightest of waves, and is full of fish. We visited a few times during the summer and Harrison loved getting to snorkel there.
As much fun as it was to snorkel during the day, one of the best kept secrets about the park comes in the evening. If you head back to the park just before the park closes at sunset, you might get to see dolphins and manatees splashing around in the tide pool!
We were swimming in the tide pool one evening when a couple of dolphins came and started swimming around us. We kept our distance and watched as they played with fish and jumped around, it was another amazing moment.
I was so grateful that we got to spend time at the beach this summer and were able to do so as safely as possible.
One of the silver linings of 2020 was getting to explore more of our home state. I’ve always said that I should spend more time actually visiting different parts of Florida but we never have – until this year when we either traveled locally or didn’t travel at all.
In March when we went into lockdown, the only time we left the house was for local walks. I made nature scavenger hunts for the kids to try to get them excited about the fact that we’d had to cancel all of our travel plans and were going for walks instead, and they worked better than expected!
As well as spending time in Vero Beach and exploring new beaches and state parks, one of my favorite activities of 2020 was getting to experience bioluminescent kayaking in Florida.
This was an amazing opportunity where we got to kayak around the warm Florida waters and watch the water light up around us as we passed by plankton that let off a blue glow. We saw dolphins and alligators as well as watching fish dart around, seemingly bright blue, under the water.
This was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I’m so happy we got to experience. Bioluminescence is only visible in Florida in the summer months when the water is at its warmest, but I can’t recommend it enough if you’re in Florida during those months.
Walt Disney World
Walt Disney World reopening
The unprecedented closing of Walt Disney World in March 2020 was one of the most sobering signs that things were getting really serious with the pandemic. Although Disney Springs opened again in June, the other four theme parks didn’t reopen until July.
The parks first opened for previews to Cast Members and Annual Passholders, and I was lucky enough to go to one of the previews at Animal Kingdom. I was really on the fence about going because we’d been so cautious about going anywhere with other people at that point, but I decided I’d give it a try and see how I felt once I was there.
The parks completely changed when they reopened summer 2020. Reservations were required to maintain guest limits, temperatures were taken upon entry, face coverings were mandatory and strictly enforced, there were social distancing markers in place, and there were no character meet and greets, parades, fireworks, or live shows. It felt very different, but the magic was still there.
Since July I’ve visited the parks a few times and each time I’ve mostly felt comfortable. I’ve been careful not to visit during the busiest times, and any time I’ve felt uncomfortable with crowds I’ve moved to a different area or left altogether.
I would return to the parks again in 2021 as long as the regulations were still in place and more importantly, were being enforced.
Changes in travel and the responsibility of travel professionals
I think one of the biggest changes I’ve seen this year when it comes to travel is the switch from flying to driving. As flying became more of a safety concern, people were taking to the roads in their own cars instead and I created a family road trip checklist to help people get prepared.
The only travel I did in 2020 was by car. We took a few local road trips, and it was one of the few methods of travel that I felt comfortable encouraging people to take. A couple of my favorite itineraries were the east coast Florida road trip and a Miami to Key West road trip.
I can’t see myself getting on a plane again any time soon so road tripping is certainly looking like the way to go in 2021 as well. It’s actually been kind of nice not to worry about carrying liquids or my bags being overweight anyway!
One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced this year has been the problem of running a travel blog during a time when travel has been severely restricted. It’s hard to write about travel as it comes screeching to a halt, and even as it did begin to open back up there was the question of whether it really was safe.
As I said, I’ve traveled within Florida this year and have done so with careful consideration. Not only did I want to keep myself, my family safe and my community safe, but I didn’t want to document and share travel in a way that would encourage others to travel unsafely. I honestly wondered at times if I should share anything at all.
In the end, I did decide to write up travel posts on the places we’ve been. I hoped it would help those in Florida looking for safe and socially distanced places to visit, and I made sure to include all safety protocols in place in all of the places we went.
I wrote a post on how to return to travel responsibly and one of the things I talked about was the responsibility of travel professionals to document any travel they were doing in a way that wouldn’t encourage others to take unnecessary risks.
Including detailed information on safety regulations at their destinations, honest accounts of whether such rules they were being followed and enforced, and taking pictures wearing masks and being socially distanced would hopefully give others the information they needed to decide whether they felt safe visiting themselves.
At the end of the day, people are traveling again. People want to go places again and want information on where they could go that feels safe; I want to be able to help people make those choices. If I do travel in 2021 then I will only be doing so to destinations that feel safe, and only doing so in a way that keeps myself and those around me as safe as possible.
I’ll leave it there for this 2020 recap post, but I very much hope that when it comes to writing up a 2021 recap that travel will be a bit more back to normal! Happy New Year to everyone, and thanks so much for your continued support!