How do you plan an amazing surprise trip for your spouse when you share a bank account, credit card, and well everything else? It is not easy. It is however so worth the effort. This is our fifth year doing this. Instead of giving each other gifts we take a trip for our anniversary. We swap out years of who is planning (Three guesses as to who’s turn it was this year). The other person can know nothing, sparing a few answers as to appropriate foot wear and fancy vs casual outfits. Our children are often caught in the planning crossfire as they are usually a confidante. Pulled into a corner they’ll be quizzed on “should I bring heels? Do I need a jacket?” You never know with us. It could be a glamorous roof top restaurant or a cabin so secluded you have to hike 15 miles to get to it. Sometimes it is both.
We each have a full year with control of the check book to plan. I had the added hurtle of dealing with Covid. I went back and forth constantly. A resort in Mexico sounded wonderful. We’ve never gone to Mexico out side of Cozumel on a cruise. What if there was another lock down though and we can’t get back? We have kids, and pets, and jobs (oh my). What about crowded areas and close contact? We’ve been vaccinated but Michael is high risk. What will there be to do where ever we do go? So many places have shut down. So I’m looking to create a trip that:
- Doesn’t Cross Borders
- Can allow for Covid Safety Precautions
- I Can Cancel If Another Lock Down Occurs
- Will Surprise And Delight The Love Of My Life
So…. Let’s take him to a small island only accessible by water taxi on the edge of Florida. Let’s drive so that we are not in a confined airplane. Let’s recover from our romantic secluded island get a way by jumping out of a plane.
The drive was long, nearly 11 hours. This is supposed to be enjoyable, so I broke it up with a stop in Gainesville, Fl. Originally I planned to have a massage in the morning before taking the second 4 hrs section of our drive. My co-worker used to live in Florida and raved about the Spa Royale in Gainsville. Unfortunately the spa was not open on Mondays. I sneakily asked questions and came to the conclusion that while I loved the idea, Michael was not too keen on a massage anyway. There is a rock bar in Gainesville that I thought would be great to check out but not open on Sunday nights. Fortunately our hotel was in walking distance of several restaurants so we just bounced around having drinks and what ever vegan nibbles we could find. Then we went back to the hotel bar and had a few more drinks. Too many drinks. A massage the next day would have been a big help.
Back in the car we continued our drive to Placida, FL where we would meet our water taxi. Let me say that drivers on the Florida interstate heading to beach are insane! Perhaps, like us they have had a long haul and are tired of being in the car. They just want to get there. Really though, looking back I think jumping out of an airplane was less life threatening than the car from Ohio that appeared to try and kill us several times.
We made it though and with enough time to get lunch before picking up our Publix order. See, you have to bring everything with you that you will need for your stay because there are no restaurants or stores on the island. You also have to take all your trash out with you. I spent so much time planning exactly what we’d eat for each meal! You have to carry all your stuff from the dock to the house so I wanted enough but not too much.
We had found a nice cafe which had yummy ultimate burgers then grabbed our Publix order and headed to the marina. I was told in no uncertain terms to be ready to go at my designated pick up time. Transported over to Little Gasparilla Island we were met by the consierge (the incoming trip was covered in the rental agreement) who helped us get our luggage and supplies to the house in a golf cart and we arranged to have help getting back to dock on our way out. I had envisioned us hauling everything on foot so this was a nice surprise.
The Round House was wonderful. Right on the water. I mean almost in the water it was so close. Windows to enjoy the gorgeous view everywhere. A nice deck for drinks and coffee plus a fire pit in the back. We had two full days of nothing but relaxing, snorkeling, napping, drinks, moon light walks trying to see sea turtles, dolphins spotting, and what ever we wanted to do. There are several artists on the island. One has a shop, Bobbie Blum McFadden, and we stopped in. Her work is beautiful and I wanted to leave with much more than I did. We day dreamed of renting a house here where we’d stay for a few months and just focus on writing. Going for swims, doing yoga, and writing. Such peace.
When it was time to leave we caught our water taxi back and stopped for breakfast/lunch before heading to Jacksonville, FL. This is where my really big surprise was. Michael has mentioned sky diving several times over the years but I always refused to consider it saying that both our children had to be at least 18 before I could die by voluntarily jumping out of a plane. Our youngest just passed the mark so I booked our jump. He never thought I’d actually do it.
World Skydiving Center was not easy to find. Where the GPS took us was not the location. I asked a gentleman inside and obviously this happens often. He didn’t bat an eye and gave me directions. It was getting hard to scream “We are going skydiving!” as we circled the air strip but Michael just played along and let me carry on.
One thing, other than showing up on time, that I was worried about was the weather. It had stormed the night before and weather was ify now. The agreement on booking said NO REFUNDS. If weather came in we needed to be prepared to wait 4 hours for it to pass or to rebook for another day. Neither of these options sounded great to me but I had prepared for possibility of a 4 hr wait.
There was no wait all though. The weather was coming in so our instructors wasted no time in giving us the break down. I mean it was really quick! As a tandem jump I knew most (all really) of the work is done by the experienced jump instructor but it was literally “here are your handles, when we jump it will be like this: lean forward, lean back, go banana”. Go banana means to arch your body in a banana shape with your head back. That was it.
We then walked out to the smallest plane I have ever seen. Truly. Now you may not know this but I suffer from motion sickness. I always have. In cars, planes, boats, everything. So my trepidation about this venture stemmed more from the plane ride than from the idea of jumping. I really, really did not want to be the woman who threw up in the plane on the ride up. This plane was small. We had 4 people sitting in each others lap (not an exaggeration) and the pilot. There wasn’t room for anyone else. This could go so bad for me, but I was committed, and invested.
With a little more instruction on the ride up we were at altitude and ready to go. I had envisioned being lined up like solders in a WWII film. Where you step up to the door and jump out. Not so. The door opened and like a wing walker in 1920, we step out of the plan and on to a tiny metal platform. How four feet had room to stand there I’m still not sure but “ready…set…go banana!” and we jumped. It was awesome! The free fall and then drift down were undescribable.
I wonder all of things we miss out on when we stay in our comfort zones. When we stay safe. When we don’t take the chance that could change everything. -Ashley Hertherington
I would recommend The World Skydiving Center to anyone looking to skydive near Jacksonville, Fl. I’d also recommend asking for Justin. He made my first jump wonderful and insured that the video I took home was great. On top of our videos we had to get t-shirts because of course we wanted to brag that we had just gone sky diving! Full disclosure, I did end up throwing up, but not in the plane. About 90 seconds after landing I excused myself to go to the side of the building and lose my stomach. One employee came by, because I was right by his car, and very unconcerned said “don’t worry, it happens a lot, it is just the adrenaline leaving your system” before driving away.
Now we had nothing to do but head home. I had given our plans a 4 hr padding that wasn’t needed. I did tell Michael that I had thought about a massage, either in Gainesville or in Jacksonville after the jump but he hadn’t seemed up for that. I had even looked into some sonic cleanses that seemed fun but again my timeline didn’t match up and they weren’t available when I needed them.
We stopped at Sweet Pea Cafe on the drive for lunch. I hadn’t eaten breakfast, for fear of loosing it, so I was very hungry. I love finding these places along the way. It seems like plant based eating is getting easier and easier to find every year.
We got back in the car Michael took the keys from me saying that now that the surprises were over I could let him drive and rest. The surprises weren’t over though. While I was away from the table Michael secretly booked a room at the Montgomery Renaissance Hotel and a morning couples massage! Pulling up to the hotel he said, “Babe, if you can jump out of plane for me, I can have a massage for you”.
This hotel is so nice. Everything about it was luxurious. I wish we’d had more time to enjoy the roof top pool. The spa was amazing! I’ve had massages before but I’ve never been to such a nice spa before. We were invited to show up early to enjoy the sauna or the hot tub and encouraged to linger in the quiet areas as long after as we wanted after. Each masseuse was awesome. Michael left saying “my shoulder feels better than it has in months!”
The staff was so kind as well. The couple massage package included chocolates and champaign. Michael told them we could not have milk chocolates so they could just not give us those. While getting our massage they went to track down something we could have. This was so so sweet and not expected.
We sat in a private area, relaxed and glowing, enjoying our treats and champaign. It was heavenly. The perfect end to a great trip.
What I would have done differently:
- Looking into what I wanted to do first: the massages or going to the punk rock bar for example could have been done if we started/ended our trip on different days. We had 10 days to work with after all.
- Flying and renting a car instead of driving: Covid was a factor here. I wasn’t completely comfortable flying. Also, the cost of renting a car to be just left at the marina for two full days would have been $356. The total difference would be $ 70 gas to drive from Huntsville, AL to Placida, FL with a hotel stop for $120 ($190 total) vs two plane tickets from Huntsville, AL to Jacksonville, FL or Birmingham, AL to Sarasota, FL for $464 + $356 to rent a car ($820 total). Flying still left driving 2-4hrs from the airport to Placida. All that said, it was a long drive on a road with irate families trying to get to the beach. I may choose to fly next time.
- More food and liquor for the house: I was overly concerned with paring down what we brought to the island. We had JUST enough food. A little more would have allowed some mid-day/midnight snacking.