Our 3.5 hour direct flight from Boston to Fort Meyers grew into a 10 hour odyssey of cancellations, connections, and lost luggage. I looked up driving directions on my PDA and read them to our map-challenged limo driver (no taxis, only limos here). Tired and hungry, we ate at Marsala Pizza in the Bonita Grande Crossing mini-mall. My personal size Margherita pizza and Jake's spaghetti and veal dinner hit the spot before we hit our beds.
We paid a $6 toll to cross bridge, and headed for the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, where we powered up on the subs we had bought at the Albertsons grocery store near Target. $30 got us a rented kayak. We paddled along the marked kayak trail, upstream and into a gentle headwind on the return half of the trip, and rewarded ourselves with ice cream bars at the gift shop.
The locals recommend Bowman's Beach for shell collecting, and t didn't let us down. After two hours of shelling, swimming, and repeatedly covering myself in sunblock ("Look, ma, no sunburn!"), we were ready to move on.
"Hi, I'm Michael, and I'm your Bubble Scout tonight." I thought I must have made a mistake. The Bubble Room on Captiva seemed like good advice until I saw the prices on the menu. I resigned myself to getting ripped off, only to be thrilled with the high quality and large portions.
We skipped desert, watched the sunset from one of Sanibel's beaches, and headed home.
There was a space shuttle launch scheduled for Day 4. Our plan was to visit Kennedy Space Center the day before the launch, stay overnight at a nearby hotel, and, if we got lucky and the launch took place, watch the launch. The Visitor Center is closed on launch days, so arriving a day early was the only way to guarantee that we would get in. After a four hour drive and about $15 in tolls, we arrived at the Visitor Center. We paid $38 each for "Maximum Access" tickets, which include entry to the Astronaut Hall of Fame. We enjoyed the tour and saw Atlantis on the launch pad for the observation tower.
The Astronaut Hall of Fame's style was a nice contrast to the Visitor Center, which is mostly look-but-don't-touch. Most of the exhibits were interactive, including a high-G-force hurl-a-whirl. We didn't feel like waiting in line for an hour—no exaggeration—but the people who rode it looked like they had a good time.
It was a late night driving back from Kennedy Space Center, so today was our rest day. Late in the afternoon, we spent some time in the pool at the Fitness Center.
We drove south to the Everglades City visitor center in Everglades National Park. We arrived just in time to watch the park rangers locking everything down—they had closed the entire park as we were driving. Hurricane Ernesto was approaching, and the park's new policy was to shut down a full day before a hurricane's predicted landfall.
Determined to enjoy ourselves, we headed for Captain Doug's Small Airboat Tours. We paid $35 for me and $17.50 for Jake, and Captain Glen took us for a ride. Captain Glen piloted us through the mangroves and showed us the "wild" animals: a raccoon, a group of pigs, and a really big gator. The animals aren't exactly wild; they are well trained to know that airboat captains bring food.
We returned to Bonita Springs and spent the afternoon at Barefoot Beach.
We spent the morning cleaning up the apartment, and called a taxi for a ride to the airport. Our Delta/Song flight had personal entertainment systems on each seat back. A nearby system kept rebooting, and I noticed that it ran Linux. As it booted, Tux appeared in the top left corner of the screen, and the boot sequence announced that it was running Red Hat something.