Miami Beach, FL.
We started our Florida vacation, a roundtrip, on August 29, 2017. We flew to Miami, headed over to Miami Beach.
Key West, FL.
Next stop Key West. Mandatory for cat lovers travelling to Key West is a visit to the Hemingway Home. The Hemingway Home is a museum and home to currently 54 cats. Those cats are special they are almost all polydactyl. Which means they have more toes on their front and/or hint paws then normal.
It was great to see the cats lounging around the garden, enjoying their lives.
They are well looked after by the staff and are being regularly checked by the veterinarian.
When Hurricane Irma approached Key West, members of the staff stayed with the cats while Key West was evacuated (USA Today article).
Key Largo, FL. Madeira Beach, FL.
Next stop Key Largo. Wonderful but short stay there.
Onwards to Naples and then Madeira Beach, close to Clearwater and St. Petersburg.
Orlando, with Disney World and Universal Studios, was our next stop. We spend a whole day in Epcot.
Not even heavy rain in between could ruin the day. In the evening, our hotel in Fort Lauderdale informed us by email that they have to cancel our reservation because the county had ordered that incoming tourists should not come to Fort Lauderdale as the entire county was to be evacuated due to Hurricane Irma, a cat 5 hurricane at this time.
We awaited a mail from the hotel in Miami as Miami Dade County had already started to evacuate areas like Miami Beach. But no email came. In the evening, we wanted to gas up our rental car. We had to drive to three different gas stations as the first two were already sold out. They had plastic bags visibly over the nozzle. The third gas station had gas, they sold it for a scam price of $ 5.999 per gallon which was more than double of the normal price. This for sure is being reported to the state authority. We drove to Cape Canaveral the next day.
Cape Canaveral, FL. Cocoa Beach, FL.
We talked with a few Visitor Center employees and were shown the latest live map of Hurricane Irma’s path towards Florida. Heavy winds, gusts and rain were forecasted. The employees even recommended that we shouldn’t drive to Cocoa Beach to our hotel as that part was in the direct path of Hurricane Irma.
As we planned to only stay one night, we did take the chance to check in. When we checked in we were informed that Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral were set to be evacuated by Saturday morning.
This was the time we contacted the airline – United – to find out if we can rebook our flight from Miami to Newark. This is when Hurricane Irma started to impact us.
We spend about 3.5 hours in the waiting loop and talking to different agents of United. The result for that day: if we rebook our flights before United officially cancels the flight out of Miami, we would need to pay an additional $1,300.
As we took our worked-up situation to Facebook, a high school friend invited us to stay with her and her family. They live close to Atlanta. A drive to Atlanta from Cocoa Beach is about 510+ miles, equals 7+ hours to drive.
In the evening, we went for some sushi. We found a great place on Merritt Island called Pacific Rim, just like the movie. After dinner, we went to a supermarket to get some water and snacks for our drive. At the entrance, the supermarket had a notification that they would close down Saturday for at least two days as Hurricane Irma was approaching the area.
In the supermarket, everything looked normal at first sight but the shelves for water, bread and canned food were empty and I mean EMPTY. A lot of people must have stopped by to buy food for a couple of days with Hurricane Irma closing in.
After water and food shopping we filled up gas again. This time we were lucky the first gas station was still selling gas, for the normal price. But we did see a few gas stations already out of gas, again with plastic bags over the faucets. On the way back to the hotel, we could see some houses had been secured with wooden panels on windows and doors.
Next morning by 8:30 am we hit the road to Atlanta. At first the traffic was light and appeared normal but we got stuck in several traffic jams. As we later learnt from the news about five to six million Floridians were getting out of Florida along with us. We saw a few horse trailers with up to eight horses and some of the cars were really packed.
Once we crossed the state border to Georgia, we looked for a gas station. This time it took two gas stations to get gas – at a normal per gallon price.
After 15+ hours of driving and two shorter stops, we arrived in Atlanta. We were impressed – seven lanes, all packed with cars at 11:30 pm on a Friday night. We were told that this is normal but probably a few hundred thousand cars more were there, a lot with Florida license plates.
At 48 hours before our flight was scheduled from Miami, United finally cancelled the flight and we could rebook our flight starting from Atlanta – no charge, easy doing.
Next challenge was the waiting loop of the rental car company – Hertz. Hertz has the policy that you can’t return a rental car more than 500 miles (800 km) from the original return station. They wanted to just double the rental rate, as Atlanta airport is more than 500 miles away from Miami airport. As the different Hertz agents sitting in a call center anywhere on the globe were uncooperative, they kind of hinted that we should to drive down to Miami to return the car, but we told them that Miami has been evacuated and that even their own rental station had closed down the day before. They had no clue!
We took our problem to the Hertz Twitter team, they gave us another phone number which unfortunately led us into the same situation as before. We tried it again later and finally the supervisor of a supervisor was agreeing to the situation booking us into a different category and we were now to pay an extra charge of $ 0.45.
Using the Flightradar24 app we checked the skies above the Florida airports.
This is how the skies looked like on September 11, 2017, around 10 am.
As Hurricane Irma was approaching Georgia, heading for Atlanta, we rebooked your flight to Newark one more time.
We left our old/new friends Terri and Chris at 3 am, departing from Atlanta airport at 6 am and had 8 hours in Newark before finally heading back home. Made it home safely.