• Post Retirement First Trip: Ontario and Florida

    March 1, 2011
  • Our first trip after I retired was a combo visit to Florida and to see our daughter and her family, most importantly our new grandson in Barrie.  This trip spanned the last week of January 2011 and first two weeks of February.

    The Stop at Barrie:

    We took the murderous 5:00am Air Canada flight out of St. John’s to Toronto. Back it up and you have to be at the airport at 4:00am. What a way not to travel especially if your not a morning person like me.

    We booked a rent-a -car out of Pearson and for those booking cars in the winter at Pearson, snow tires and 4WD don’t come as standard equipment. We arrived in Barrie before 10:00am and the Tim Horton’s on Bayfield was less than impressive with no eggs for our muffins.

    Barrie Waterfront

    We had a wonderful stay with our daughter, her husband and our little grandson. The best place in Barrie to take your grandson and family out for lunch in Barrie is the Mandarin Restaurant.

    Great buffet! Their battered cod is better than anything in St. John’s, sacrilege for a Newfie to say! All you can eat buffet lunch for myself, husband, my daughter and son-in-law and grandson was less than $60.00. Its most popular for lunch because the price increases for the dinner sitting. The restaurant is quite large and can seat quite a number of people at one time, so there is a short wait time.

    Florida Here We Come!

    After our stay in Barrie, and following an all nighter with the in-laws, we departed at 6:00am to drive to Pearson to catch a WestJet flight at 10:00am arriving at 1:30pm. Can you imagine 25 C and sunny on February 1st. We picked up our rent-a-car at 2:00pm. We booked our rental through Hotwire and while they are great for affordable hotel rooms, we found that there was no real advantage cost wise using Hotwire to rent a car in the US. When we booked we picked the “wildcard” which allows the rental agency to pre-select the car for you and they wanted to saddle us with a large SUV which neither of us was used to driving. We asked for a car and were subsequently able to rent a Ford Fusion at a much higher cost. We probably would have been better off booking the car when we got there (they have quite a few).

    We got to Treasure Island Beach at 3:00pm and checked into the Sunset Vistas Beach Resort. We booked a beachfront room and it was perfect for us. While a little pricey at $150.00 per night for the 10 day stay, we found it was good value for the money compared to other properties we looked at. It was a nice two bedroom unit, both with Queen beds, with the unit fronting on the beach having a full ensuite bathroom and another full bathroom off the living room area. It had a big refurbished kitchen, full fridge, stove, microwave and dishwasher. Fresh towels, garbage collected, the room made-up daily and the beds were certainly comfortable. The living room/dining room was nicely furnished with a flat screen TV (TV also in both bedrooms) and there was free Wi-Fi which is most definitely a cost benefit compared to hotels in Canada where you are charged $10.00 + a day for Wi-Fi. There was a balcony off the living room overlooking the beach to watch the gorgeous sunsets every evening. There was a hot tub and two pools, one for children and both were exceptionally clean.

    The whole of Sunset Vistas Resort was very well kept. The only drawback with the room that I could see was that there was no in room safe which you really need when you travel to store your valuables such as your Net Book when you want to go for walks and outings. As well for those who love to BBQ once in a while, there are no gas BBQ’s available. There are other smaller hotels/motels available for less a night but many are not located right on the beach. For a virtual tour of Sunset Vistas go to www.sunsetvistas.com  

    Sunset Vistas Beach Resort from Treasure Island Beach

    Treasure Island Beach is fabulous, a really wide beach with the hotels set back from the Gulf of Mexico by at least a 1,000 feet and the beach is freely accessible just about anywhere along Gulf Blvd. The beach stretches for several kilometers and we walked the beach daily  from our hotel for 40-50 minutes and it still seemed to be only half way down.

    Madeira Beach is just north of Sunset Vistas beyond John’s Pass which is a major waterway between the Inter coastal Waterway and the Gulf of Mexico. John’s Pass is where a large concrete drawbridge  opens to allow marine traffic to pass through into the Gulf of Mexico. We witnessed this a couple of times and it is quite impressive to see these huge steel and concrete slabs open and close. Definitely impressive as you drink ice cold $1.00 beers at Gator’s Cafe and Saloon and watch the dolphins dip in and out of the water.

    The Inter coastal Waterway Bridge opening at John’s Pass

    Conveniently there was a supermarket, called Publix, a drugstore, liquor store and many pizza and convenience stores located less than 5 minutes from Sunset Vistas all on Gulf Blvd. Publix has all the groceries and commodities that most supermarkets carry, an excellent deli, seafood counter and a small wine shop. The deli featured delicious southern fried chicken (8 pieces), 3 side salads and rolls all for $8.99 which was enough for dinner and several snacks throughout our stay. You can eat and drink much more cheaply in Florida than you can here in St. John’s. Liquor and wine are half the price of our spirits here in Newfoundland and Labrador (NL) and food is also cheaper. I should add that we had no trouble using our debit or credit cards in Florida and were pleased to see that when the receipt came up on the debit card that we paid less because of the higher valuation of the Can $. A really nice surprise!

    Restaurant Favorites: Not in any particular order. They were all great: you can look them up on www.tripadvisor.com for details.

    PJ’s Oyster Bar: We really liked PJ’s for the everything. Burgers to fish, you can’t go wrong! Although it is not upscale, the food and the atmosphere is great! Dinners with a glass of wine for two was between $25.00 and $30.00 depending on what you ordered. Take out the wine and you can dine for under $20.00 and its a lot of food! Great spirit and atmosphere!

    Ricky T’s Bar and Grill: Had great pizza, seafood, nice patio on Gulf Blvd. Lunches and dinners for two with beer or wine for $30.00 or less. The waitresses at Ricky’s were certainly a favorite of my husband. They seem to cater to the men but don’t ignore the woman either!

    Caddy’s on the Beach: This is a great restaurant right on Sunset Beach (South of Treasure Island). Burgers, chicken, Grouper and beers or wine with dinner for two fro less than $30.00. We had lunch before we left for the airport and it cost $10.00. A great night venue in the evening. Good dance spot with live entertainment. The locals love it so the tourists will too! Very lively and the waitresses are there to cater to you!

    Middle Grounds Grill was definitely the favorite of our stay. Its a pricey restaurant by most Florida standards and it was our one splurge. Great steaks, innovative appetizers ( their Arizona Southwest Spring Rolls were outstanding). Robert Mondavi Red Wine at $20.00 per bottle was wonderful (think it was on special that night). What more can you want? Luckily we walked to and from. I thought is was a short walk but my feet told me different. Our bill was less than $100.00 for the best food and wine we had on our stay! Will go back again if it is still there? That’s the thing about restaurants in Florida you can’t be sure if they will be there when you go back!

    Ted Peter’s Smoked Fish is a sentimental favorite of ours. We used to go there when we frequented Florida in the 1980′s (wasn’t back since until now). While it seems that everyone goes there for the smoked fish we go there for the burgers. A big 1/3 pounder with a slab of sweet onion, cheese, pickles and slaw on the side! Lunch with a big mug of beer served in ice chilled mugs at a picnic table in the 25C sun can’t be beat. Less than $15.00 for all. Ted Peters was featured on the Food Networks’s Dinner’s, Drive-in’s and Dives with Guy Fieri, but we already knew it was great!

    Enjoying a cold beer with my great burger at Ted Peters

    Our 10 days in the Florida sun passed quickly, but we did get to do some shopping at the nearby Tyrone Mall. JC Penny was a great department store with lots of selection in woman’s purses, clothing and men’s casual clothes. While we were there they had a huge sale and on top of the already reduced merchandise, I scratched a card and got another 25% off everything I’d purchased. Sears also had some great deals and I now have lots of casual wear for my travels!

    We also visited Downtown St. Petersburg which is quite interesting.

    Hubby on The St. Petersburg Pier

    Hubby noted that the MLB Tampa Bay Rays has a stadium downtown as well as the NHL Lightning. The St. Petersburg Pier is spectacular jutting out into Tampa Bay over a kilometer long. There is lots to see there with shops and an indoor marine attraction which the kids would love. We liked the outside where the locals were fishing off the pier and trying to keep the large Pelicans at bay.

    Pelican’s on St. Petersburg Pier trying to catch the fish that the locals caught

    You can park your car in the lots provided or on metered parking and take shuttle buses free to get you to and from the pier, although the bus drivers encourage tipping for the service. They stop at various interesting attractions and while we were there it rained quite heavily and it was nice to catch the trolley back to where we started.

    Back to the Rock:

    Our trip back to the Rock went smoothly. A West Jet flight to Toronto in the afternoon and we arrived in TO in the dark around 7pm. Our Budget rent-a-car booked on Hotwire was not a smooth deal. We booked a mid size and were given a compact. The Budget guy didn’t agree that a Hyundai Elantra is a compact and with the delays it was 8pm before we set out on the road to Barrie for another three day stay with the grandson and family. It’s about 100km from the airport to Barrie and the road was in surprisingly good shape after a February snowstorm that had blew through the night before. The weather in Barrie was tough to take though, -18C and cold and snowy in February.

    After saying our good-byes we drove to Pearson which was a madhouse. The Air Canada gate for the flight back to St. John’s was crowded with passengers trying to get on the flight. Apparently St. John’s had a snowstorm, the same one that blew through Toronto earlier in the week. Several flights to St. John’s had been canceled during the day. We did get on, but it was close. We were among the last names called even though we were booked for that scheduled flight.

    This is why you want to stay or come back to the Florida Coast

    The flight back was uneventful which is great! The driveway was a messy event. The problem with going to Florida in January/February is you have to come back home and face the winter elements!

    MK
    Date Posted: March 2011