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Who Goes To Florida To Watch Hockey?
November 23, 2005

My bro, my Mom, and myself, that's who. Being Canadian, hockey is in our DNA, and our favorite hockey team, the Pittsburgh Penguins, were not coming to the West this year.

So after looking at their schedule we saw that they were headed on a 2 game road trip to Florida near the end of November, and when you combine that with cold weather creeping into Canada around that same time, it just made sense to head south.

We caught the red-eye flight to Orlando, leaving around midnight and arriving at about 1PM. Needless to say we were exhausted, but our day wasn't over, as our plan was to spend the first night in Miami. We caught a ride with an unfriendly taxi driver, who dropped us off at the car rental location, where we picked up our awaiting chariot, a Dodge Stratus.

Somewhere along the way to Miami I left my credit card at a gas station. I don't think I've ever gone on a trip without losing *something* important, and I've just learned to accept it. Luckily they were honest folks, and by the time I had called in to cancel my card the gas station had already reported it.

We spent the first night in South Beach Miami, at the Hotel Atlantica, a nice little place that costs much, much less than most of the hotels you'll find in the trendy South Beach area. That night we walked up and down Ocean Drive, which is full of 'Art Deco' architecture, and looks a lot nicer in the evening than it does in the daytime.

The next morning we headed out early to make our way down to the Florida Keys, which are tiny little strips of land off the southern tip of Florida connected by impressive bridges. This is as far south as you can get in the United States, if you don't count Hawaii.

It's also home to Key West, a city that used to be very, very wealthy, when they were in the cigar-making business. Now it's a home for drag queens, and a place for cruise ships to drop off piles of geriatrics so they can purchase tacky gifts for their loved ones.

Also in the Keys, we stopped for the afternoon at Bahia Honda State Park, and went on a snorkeling tour in the coral reef. They took us out about 9 miles and dropped us in the warm water. I had never been snorkeling before (just not something we do too often in Canada) and it was a great time. It's pretty neat to be swimming among schools of tropical fish, spotting manta rays, barracudas, etc.

We spent the night in Islamorada, back near the entrance to the Keys, and headed back up north towards the Ft. Lauderdale area. Along the way we stopped at Coopertown for an airboat tour through the Everglades. I learned that the Everglades is actually a very slow moving river, that only moves about 100 feet per day. Of course, everyone hopes to see alligators, and we saw 3 or 4 of them on our tour.

Heading up to Ft. Lauderdale, we checked in at the Shore Haven Resort, easily the best hotel on our trip. On this night we were to watch the first hockey game of our trip, the Penguins vs. the Florida Panthers, at the Bank Atlantic Center. We headed over to the arena, with time to kill, so we decided to check out the Sawgrass Mills Mall, which happens to be Florida' largest mall.

We also happened to be headed there on the infamous 'busiest shopping day of the year' in the United States, the day after Thanksgiving. Calling it chaos would be an understatement. Like locusts the crowds swarmed the Gap, ravaging it bare, their appetite had no limits. The consumers consumed, the parking lots filled, the economy recovered.

Parking at the mall, we walked over to the Florida Panthers Arena, one of the newest in the National Hockey League. It's very well designed, and made our Saddledome seem quite outdated. It was great to see the Penguins live, both Mario Lemieux and Sid 'the kid' Crosby were in action, but unfortunately it would not be their night to shine. It's just not as much fun to watch your team lose, especially when you've come thousands of miles to see them!

The next day we just relaxed and spent some time at the Fort Lauderdale beach. A1A, Beachfront Avenue. Miles of sand, warm waters.

Waking up, we had a long drive ahead of us, up to Tampa. We had already seen the east coast of Florida, so we cut across to the west coast, and drove north. We had some time before the second hockey game in Tampa, so we checked out the Salvador Dali museum in St. Petersburg. A lot of people think Dali is too accessible, too commercial, but I know what I like, and I enjoy his paintings.

Heading to Tampa, we watched the current Stanley Cup champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning, dismantle our Peguins, who were without Mario Lemieux for the night thanks to a stomach virus. Oh well, it was still fun to check out an NHL game in a different arena.

That same night we completed our circle around Florida by heading back to Orlando. The next day, our last in Florida, we took a tour of NASA at Cape Canaveral. It's pretty amazing to see the technology and money that is poured into the space program. Then again it's amazing to see the money spent on tacky gifts in Key West. And at the Gap. And toll booths on Florida highways.