Where we’re at: I’m recapping my travels in 2019, including this trip to Florida in November. Sorry for my long absence, by the way! I guess I needed to take a true vacation while traveling in French Polynesia — looking back to blogging up a storm while stateside.
With my mermaid-themed birthday extravaganza in Mexico wrapping, I found myself with a tough choice: be spontaneous and backpack a bit through Cozumel, Playa del Carmen and other Quintana Roo destinations I’d yet to visit, or be a grown up and head to Florida for a conference in Orlando.
In what will come as a shock to all, up to and including myself, I chose the responsible route for once (to be fair, backpacking with an oversized suitcase with a dress for a black tie wedding and a four person shell float was less than desirable.) I softened the blow of my adulting by padding the work trip with visits to friends on each end, spending a grand total of twelve days in the Sunshine State.
First stop? Sarasota.
My hometown bestie and almost birthday twin Kristin wasn’t able to make it to Mexico the week before, so I was all too happy to meet her and her parents in Sarasota for an extended celebration instead. Her mom and stepdad, who many readers will recognize as second parents to me, have been spending much time there lately while mulling a house purchase. My first visit to Sarasota was also with them, and I was pleased to be back in pineapple-themed paradise.
I really committed to kicking off thirty with healthy habits, so I woke up early my first morning in Florida and headed to Historic Downtown Sarasota to a spin class at Pineapple Yoga and Cycling Studio. It was a fantastic decision — an adorable studio in the heart of an extremely quaint area. I wandered around with my camera a bit after class and felt a newfound appreciation for Sarasota — I look forward to exploring this area more on future visits.
That night we headed out for their annual family favorite, a sunset cruise. We took a private tour so the captain was pretty happy to mold it to whatever suited us — a little bit of real-estate peeping (always a hit in Florida), a little bit of serene mangrove cruising, a bit of waterfront bar hopping, and a sunset finale in the surf where we looked for dolphins.
While I’m not sure the exact operator Laura and Marc hired since they spoiled us as usual, you can find a similar tour here.
Here’s a little bit of the internal conversation I’d had with myself on my flight back to the US, where I found myself just forty-eight hours later doing a water shotski with my Kristin and the couple who supervised my junior high school dance, and in fact used to ground us for exactly this behavior.
Me: “I’ll just dry out a bit from Mexico”
It was a great night.
The next day we kept things chill with a beach and pool day, enjoying the truly powder-like white sands of Siesta Key and the beautiful backyard pool at the house (that morning, their pup Dexter had horrified and then entertained us by waltzing atop the pool cover like a canine bible parable.)
For my final night, I headed to one of Pineapple Yoga’s frequent events, a sunset yoga class on the harbor downtown. I was grateful I’d dragged myself away to do so — it couldn’t have been a more stunning send-off from Sarasota.
After, I met everyone at Shore in chic St. Armand Circle, a beautiful final meal. We can always count on Kristin and her fiance Mark to find us fabulous food spots!
With Laura and Marc putting down roots in Sarasota, I’m sure this is my second trip of many! I look forward to exploring this charming corner of Florida over and over again.
The next morning, I was off before dawn for my very first DEMA Conference. I’d been trying to get to DEMA, the world’s largest industry-only dive conference that alternates between Orlando and New Orleans, for years. To finally be able to align my schedule with one was a victory in itself.
My goal? To network, say hi to a few friends, take a few meetings, geek out on scuba seminars, and research potential partners for Wander Women Retreats. DEMA hit nearly 10,000 attendees that year, and I have to say I was somewhat stunned when I walked out onto the showroom floor! Having attended many consumer dive shows like Beneath The Sea and Boston Sea Rovers, this really was next level.
As usual with conferences, many of the talks I went to were just okay, but there were some standouts like Green The Fleet, a Sustainability and Diving talk by Aggressor — talk about a brand that walks the walk, or should I say swims the swim when it comes to sustainability. It really made me want to work with them in the future. The majority were many, many talks on safety, legality, risk avoidance and standards compliance, which were dry but necessary and I feel like I absorbed a lot (wow the water puns just keep rolling) on how to run a safe, successful dive business.
It seemed to me, a relative outsider, like the big conversations everyone was having in 2019 at DEMA were how to recover from the very publicized liveaboard disasters of the tragic, deadly onboard fires in California and Egypt, and what the future of the industry looked like as the oceans bear the brunt of global climate change. I can’t help but look back in retrospect and think how sad it is that this enormous, passionate industry so dedicated to rolling with the waves had absolutely no idea what was about to hit them with the pandemic quietly brewing around the world.
On a lighter note, it was also great to connect in person with so many friends from both on and offline. I got to give my friend Ryan from Thailand a big hug at the booth he was working, I finally met face-to-face with Sarah Richard, founder of Girls That Scuba, and over burgers we made big plans to head to Sudan in March to research a future liveaboard (a plan, too, thwarted by COVID).
And I met with my forever dive girl crush Allison of Dive Into The Pink, a breast cancer survivor, who is both a professional underwater photographer and the head of a non-profit that raises money for cancer research — you can read my interview with her here! Every year she donates the discretionary fund to a cause in honor of someone in the dive community affected by cancer. In 2019 she asked if she could donate to brain cancer research in honor of my mom, and it still brings me to tears. As she enthusiastically introduced me to various friends on the showroom floor, I really wondered what I did to get so lucky to be surrounded by all these incredible inspiring women who are so willing and eager to mentor me.
One thing that took me by surprise as a first time attendee was how many exhibitors offered insane show specials on booking travel, and how many attendees showed up with open checkbooks and, having done their pre-show research, essentially booked a year’s worth of dive travel right there. I was doing the research stage live and in person, so I felt a little unprepared. But, now I know for next time, and in the meantime I set in motion some connections for incredible trips that we immediately put in development for 2021 and beyond — though of course all of that has now been delayed by a year (or more!) by COVID. Ugh.
One aspect of DEMA I definitely did not take full advantage of was the social aspect, which I know for many is the point of attending! I guess I was both a little shy and a little burnt out on constant mingling (ah, how faraway that sensation feels) and spent my nights eating takeout salads in my hotel bathtub while watching Law and Order episodes from my laptop precariously balanced on the toilet, instead. Speaking of, I can highly recommend the Holiday Inn Express and Suites in Orlando as a great budget conference option — while I’d normally prefer something independent, I couldn’t beat the price and location of this.
DEMA was all consuming and I had no time to balance Orlando discovery in between conference-ing and working, which was fine as I’ve been many times before and will go many times in the future. There was one exception: having learned that the world’s largest McDonald’s was indeed in Orlando, I decided to treat myself to lunch there one day.
With pasta and pizza on the menu, tropical fish filled aquariums for decor, and a friendly busboy who I soon learned had survived heart surgery at my hometown Albany Med hospital on staff, it was a memorable conference reward indeed.
Leaving Orlando, I was meant to head to Jupiter for a weekend of shark diving with Girls That Scuba, but weather cancelled the trip. Instead, I drove directly to Jacksonville, where my girl Angie and her fam were waiting with open arms. Bonus — our friend Jodi was passing through too.
Angie and I fulfilled all our time-honored Jacksonville traditions — co-working on the couch and at our desks with her sister Rae, getting our nails done, binge-watching a series on her couch, having dinner at Hawkers, floating in or lounging by the pool, tormenting her husband with an excessive amount of Britney Spears trivia, and then realizing the whole trip passed and we didn’t really do much Jacksonville exploring for two travel bloggers, and vehemently vowing to do it next time. Whoops.
I did make one tiny step in that direction, though — I honored my daily movement vow by taking classes at a few different Jacksonville studios while in town. I absolutely loved the yoga sculpt class at MBody, swooned over the aerial arts classes at Bittersweet Studios, had a blast at Buti at Hot Spot Power Yoga, and truly fell in love with the beautiful studio Red Skies Yoga (they have kombucha on tap!), where I took a fantastic vinyasa yin combo class. And we had an actual, non-ironic blast with a big bowling night out with Angie’s brother — always working for that honorary Orth status.
By the way, if you ever happen to need an Airbnb in Jacksonville, you too can fulfill your fantasy of being Angie’s next door neighbor by renting her adorable Hilltop Cottage Airbnb. I can assure you that she’s a five star, ten out of ten host, from experience.
My last few trips to Florida have been super active and adventurous — my cavern diving road trip and my Florida Keys dive hop, for those that have been around that long! — so it was definitely a shift to do a more tame tour. But in a weird time where I was working to put the pieces of my life back together, it felt good to stick close to family and friends, and turn eyes towards the future.
Till next time, Florida…