By Steve MacNaull
It’s as if we’re weightless.
As we glide along the Overseas Highway in a rented cherry-red Mustang convertible the rest of the world melts away and we are truly living in the moment.
All we can see on either side is endless blue-green water and wispy horizon.
Gazing forward and in the rearview mirror, it’s just a two-lane ribbon of iconic blacktop.
With colossal smiles on our faces and the wind in our air, we’ve hit our stride on Seven Mile Bridge.
This is no normal bridge and no normal trip.
The 11.3-kilometre span is part of the Overseas Highway through the Florida Keys from Miami to Key West.
And, it’s a prime example of how the journey is just as important as the destination.
Seven Mile Bridge is the longest of the 42 bridges on the 171-kilometre-long highway – a bucket-list drive that skips over the crystalline Atlantic from palm-fringed island to palm-fringed island.
My wife, Kerry, and I get an early start in Miami to make the most of our Overseas Highway adventure.
It’s now easier than ever for Canadians to get to Miami and use the cosmopolitan South Florida metropolis as a Keys gateway.
Air Canada has non-stop flights from Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Halifax and Vancouver to a variety of Florida destinations, including Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Fort Myers, Tampa, West Palm Beach, Sarasota and Jacksonville.
Soon after driving out of Miami we depart mainland Florida and are zipping over bridges and riding causeways hugging the gentle curve of the spectacular Florida Keys archipelago.
First stop is Key Largo, where, somehow, the African Queen has ended up in a channel.
Yes, it’s the actual 1912-built, 30-foot steam ship used in the 1951 Academy Award-winning movie of the same name starring Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn.
We just have to go for a ride with Captain Eddie past waterfront mansions and out into the Atlantic for a bit.
I even get the chance to drive.
Back on the Overseas Highway, it’s off to Islamorada and the Amara Cay Resort for two nights.
Our days are filled with Keys fun, punctuated with stops for memorable meals.
That means dinner of catch-of-the-day snapper sat at a table right on the beach at Morada Bay Beach Cafe and breakfast at The Hungry Tarpon restaurant where eggs are devoured dockside with a Trailer Trash Bloody Mary.
We board Islander Girl’s patio boat to zip off to the Islamorada Sandbar to frolic in the clear, shallow water while first mate Amy hands out rum punches and beers from a floating, makeshift bar atop a paddleboard.
For an adrenaline rush, we follow guide Austin on Spray Watersports’ exhilarating Island Jet Ski Tour out of the harbour, over glassy ocean and through mangrove tunnels.
The next day we strike out for our final destination of Key West, the farthest south point in the continental United States.
However, halfway there, on Knight’s Key, we have to pause and rent bikes at the accurately and ironically named Marathon Bike Rental & Free Snow Removal.
The mission is to cycle the Old Seven Mile Bridge, the circa-1912 former elevated railroad and highway that’s now a well-marked hiking and biking trail.
Again, we enjoy that ethereal sensation peddling a six kilometre round trip with nothing but water and horizon either side.
Then, it’s back in the convertible for the aforementioned traverse of the new Seven Mile Bridge on our way to Key West.
We check into The Gardens Hotel, a Victorian estate set in a downtown tropical oasis, which has been turned into a 23-room boutique hotel with courtyard pool.
We’ll use The Gardens as our base to explore nearby famous Duval Street and twice visit Historic Key West Seaport – the first time to have the signature oysters and sparkling wine at Half Shell Raw Bar and the second to board Sebego Watersports’ 60-foot catamaran called Cubed.
Cubed becomes our floating party platform for the day for snorkelling the Eastern Dry Rock patch of the Florida Barrier Reef, parasailing, jet skiing and sea kayaking.
Buoyed by the day of action, we find ourselves at The Docks restaurant at the up-and-coming, warehouse-chic Stock Island for a sunset dinner of blackened grouper and more sparkling wine.
The perfect way to cap off a Florida Keys vacay.