As summer winds down and everyone gets back into the regular pace of the school year, I’m thinking back to the start of summer when I went on one of the best vacations of my life. It was my first beach vacation in years. Why was this vacation so good?
It was the nondoing and the nonthinking. We spent a lot of time on the beach, and it was nice to do nothing and go nowhere. No agendas or plans. No self-imposed pressure to be constantly on the move, constantly exploring. No mountains to climb or bikes to ride. Just a wide open beach to be enjoyed.
The sight, sound and feeling of the waves were all I needed to unwind. The vast spaces were soothing to my “always on” brain. I took deeper breaths than I have in months and I was carefree. I wanted to stay longer and was genuinely tempted to do so.
There has been a lack of vacation and paid time off in my life for about a year, and I’ve learned a lot from it. More on that in a future post.
My mom and I visited Cocoa Beach, Florida over Mother’s Day weekend. We spent most of our time down at the beach, either seated in simple beach chairs near the shoreline with the waves kissing our toes or strolling along the water.
Husband and Mom admitted to me separately that they thought I wouldn’t enjoy a beach vacation.
They were wrong.
I loved the chance to spend hours outside in the sun, breathing in the fresh air and the sensation of the water. Getting lost watching the texture of the rolling waves encouraged my brain to take a break and relax.
The weather was perfect. The humidity was low. Lots of sun and light breezes. Chilly mornings and evenings with wonderfully warm afternoons.
I enjoyed spending one-on-one time with my mom, especially over Mother’s Day. It has been a very long time since we took a vacation together. Even though we spend an hour or two each week walking together and catching up, we didn’t run out of things to talk about. She loves the beach as much as I do, so it was nice that we could appreciate it together. As an added bonus, we split most of our meals, and it gave us both the chance to try lots of new dishes, avoid stuffing ourselves, and keep our spending reasonable.
This was a girls trip, so Husband did not join us. I missed him, yes, but it was nice to have a break. A brief break from my partner helped me get back in touch with my own thoughts, feelings and preferences. It was nice to gain some perspective on our relationship, and the time spent without him made me appreciate him more.
When we weren’t beaching it up, we were eating great food…
- Toasted: As Gouda as it Gets grilled cheese sandwich with smoked gouda, pulled chicken, roasted red peppers and garlic spinach. Served with a “Dipper” size housemade roasted tomato soup. Delicious but very heavy. Mom and I wished we had split an order. We hit this trendy spot on our way out of Orlando toward the coast, and were lucky enough to score a seat on their patio overlooking a large pond and treed lot. Really great service.
- Grills: Daniels Seafood omelet, cranberry nut bread French toast with real butter, biscuit, home fries shared with Mom and served alfresco, for a memorable Mother’s Day breakfast. I have dreams about that omelet. The seafood, oh my! Great location – right on the water of Port Canaveral. We were fortunate to snag the best seat on the deck before the Mother’s Day crowds set in.
- Preacher Bar: Mahi mahi tacos (blackened mahi mahi, ginger slaw, avocado cilantro cream, mango relish), fries, salad of roasted beet and goat cheese atop arugula. Fun, cozy atmosphere despite its location in a strip mall away from the beach.
- Neptune Bar & Grill: Crab cake BLT with fries was good but not worth the 25-minute drive to Satellite Beach. Large covered patio bar was spacious and probably lots of fun on weekends, but it’s located right next to a busy road.
- Smokehouse Foods: Giant smoked fish taco was different and fun to try. Seemed a little bland since I’m accustomed to the complex spiciness of Tex Mex. The huge orange tortilla came generously filled with a cabbage slaw, cheese, salsa and a smoked white fish that I can’t remember the name of. Mom and I had the wisdom to split the order this time. Another chance to eat outside? Yes, please.
- Publix: Superfood salad made of kale, blueberries, dried cranberries, sliced almonds, edamame, grape tomatoes and a sweet raspberry vinaigrette. We added some smoked turkey deli meat for a boost of protein and enjoyed this for lunch on our balcony two days in a row. This “spa lunch” was a nice contrast to some of the heavier, richer foods we enjoyed while dining out at restaurants.
- Snacks & Misc:
- Tomato & spinach quiche: for breakfast, we picked this up from the Publix readymade section so that we could enjoy a slow, quiet morning on Day Two. The next day, we had another light breakfast of yogurt, apples and nuts.
- Kanzi apples: tasty, new-to-us apples we discovered at Publix.
- Popcorn: our condo came with a single packet of popcorn and two little red movie-theatre “Popcorn” bags that made enjoying popcorn on the beach all the more fun.
- Chocolate, of course: Godiva 72% bar and a carton of Whoppers. In honor of Cocoa Beach, naturally.
- Snacks brought from home: raw almonds, raw walnuts, a Pink Lady apple and a couple of KIND granola bars.
- You can’t win them all: on our first night in Cocoa Beach, we walked 2 hungry miles down to Captain J’s for dinner. From the world’s tiniest serving of spinach and artichoke dip to the sad excuse for “stuffed avocado salads,” we were pretty disappointed and dissatisfied. The skyview deck was nice, but didn’t make up for the bad service, smoky air, high prices and tasteless salad. Avoid.
- Adult beverages: We kept it classy with Mike’s Harder Lemonade Black Cherry and Flip Flop Wines Fizzy Crisp White. Okay, not exactly classy, but they were nice, cool treats for hot afternoons at the beach. Drink responsibly and only when you’re of age to do so.
The Exercise (or lack thereof)
We walked, and we walked, and we walked. Most mornings and most evenings. Generally in our bare feet along the hardpacked shoreline, and once in our sneakers, which was surprisingly nice too.
Both of us packed lots of workout clothing that went unused. Not because we didn’t move, but because we made it work with our swimwear.
And I didn’t feel driven to do any “hardcore” exercising, so I didn’t. Rest is an important component of any exercise regimen. I let myself enjoy the slowed-down feel of vacation brought on by the beach. No guilt, no regrets.
Our fellow tourists were friendly. Overall it was a low-key group that mostly kept to themselves, and the beach was far from crowded.
I enjoyed observing the different shapes of the bodies on display on the beach. There were not a lot of “beach bods,” just regular people enjoying the beach. I was reminded that you can’t hide anything in a swimsuit, and it’s okay to accept your body as it is today. Many people out there are much more confident in their own skin than I am, and that’s a good thing.
It’s obvious that Cocoa Beach’s prime heyday has long passed. Lots of fun (retro) architecture to check out, and getting around was a breeze. They offer a lot of public parking very close to the beach.
Mom found a great two-bedroom, two-bathroom, clean and well-equipped condominium through VRBO.
Canaveral Towers is a highrise condo right on the beach. Our unit had everything we needed for a comfortable stay, and they even provided a few thoughtful extras, such as sunscreen, a soft cooler, beach towels and beach toys, a bottle of wine, popcorn and some coupons to local souvenir shops.
- Flight – I found a great deal on flights from DFW to Orlando on American Airlines. $126 roundtrip is hard to beat. It was pretty neat to check in for our return flight from the beach. My security line experience returning home was the most disorganized and crowded I’ve ever experienced. “Line” isn’t even a fitting term, as we were kind of clumped for much of my lengthy wait. I’m not sure if this experience was unique to the Orlando airport or just an effect of the TSA challenges that plagued much of the country at that time.
- Rental car – Our Firefly experience also felt like a great deal. We paid by the mile, and ended up saving a lot over the competing companies’ fixed rates. Beware of the gas station closest to the airport that charges nearly double the price per gallon for fuel. The very next one after that is reasonable. Also, Chuy’s restaurant fans should note that there’s a Chuy’s just outside of the airport. If you have a layover in Orlando, take advantage!
- Highway tolls – Ugh. Check with your rental company about the best way to handle this. The drive from the Orlando airport to Cocoa Beach is a real treat, clocking in at under an hour, but it requires passing through several toll booths and some only accept quarters.
- Shopping – We hit up the local big box store for some necessities, the Publix grocery store for breakfast and lunch fixings, and even a local specialty grocery store just for fun. Because trying out new grocery stores is fun!
Finally, the right gear can make a big difference in your beach vacation travel experience. I was glad I brought some really functional bags on this trip:
Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Sac
The smallest of this 3-piece set served as a lightweight carryall for my keys, wallet and phone while relaxing on the beach. I used the built-in clip to hang the bag from my beach chair’s top tube to avoid the water.
Nathan Triangle Waist Pack
Instead of a water bottle, I stuffed our flip flops into the bottle compartment while we walked on the beach barefoot. Sexy? No. Practical? Yes.
Italia Shopper from Run Run Run
I love traveling with this tote bag. It’s lightweight and you can fold it down and snap it into a small pack. It even has a handy pocket on the inside. It’s large enough (and small enough) to be extremely functional when you find yourself with too much carryon cargo at the airport gate. Not to mention I get tons of compliments on the fun pattern of mine.
The Beach Vacation Discovery
It’s okay to slow down on vacation. It’s okay to do nothing, maybe even beneficial to do so. A beach vacation has become my favorite kind of vacation.
I’m already looking forward to my next beach vacation in Martinique, a French Caribbean island.
What do you think?
- Are you a fan of the beach vacation?
- What is your favorite part of taking time off from your everyday routine?