Spring Break at Cheeca Lodge

The kids got a bit of reprieve from school this past week, in the yearly ritual known as spring break. I only remember having spring break in high school, but I guess the teachers can only take so many days of kids breaking out of the winter rut. I know I still get a little spring in my step as the weather starts to warm up - I can only imagine what that must feel like when you're elementary-school age.

I've been trying to get back down to Cheeca Lodge for some time to do a Travel Brief for the magazine. The main lodge underwent a complete renovation over the last several years after a fire damaged the roof and upper rooms of the main building on Dec. 31, 2008. The lodge wanted to get the word out that Cheeca was up and running and more beautiful than ever. An impending deadline cancelled a trip down this past January to fish in the Presidential Tournament, so I just figured I'd get down whenever I could.

Luckily, the first taping of the Chevy Florida Insider for 2011 was taking place on Wednesday in the middle of my kids' spring break down in Hialeah. Since that's almost to the Keys, I took a chance to see if Cheeca had any openings for Thursday and Friday night so we could spend the weekend and I could get some info and photos for the Travel Brief. I told them we'd all (five of us) squeeze into a single room if necessary!

About two hours before I was to leave for Miami, I got an e-mail from Cheeca's Susan Ashmore saying they had a room for us! The kids went berserk and scrambled away to start packing. The wife, used to my spur-of-the-moment adventures, blew the hair out of her eyes and headed after them, shouting orders about what to bring.

After three rainy days in a row at home with the kids, the wife was already at her wit's end, so I was cringing at the thought of a 3½-hour tension-riddled drive down the turnpike. Everything went incredibly smooth, however, even at the taping of the first show. The kids spent the entire taping in Telemundo's rec room playing video games and watching Tangled on DVD.

We spent the night in the Best Western at Florida City, then headed on down to Cheeca on Thursday morning. For some reason, the 1½-hour drive turned into some sort of evil revenge for the smooth trip the day before, and little Molly tried to give Daddy a heart attack on several occasions - emitting ear-piercing screams that could only come from the vocal chords of a 4-year-old girl. The glass of champagne offered at check-in once we finally pulled into Cheeca represented the most welcome taste of alcohol I've had in quite some time - and I'm not even a big drinker.

Nevertheless, once we all hit the pool, waiters carrying dreamy-looking pina coladas caught my and the wife's attention. There's nothing quite like sipping a frosty adult beverage at poolside, and Mother Nature blessed us with perfect, sunny and breezy days. The kids spent untold hours trying to kill themselves (or each other) in the pool and were thankfully unsuccessful. We played golf on the lodge's 9-hole course and biked all over the grounds - in short, the kids had a blast.

We also spent one special night at the home of John and Poppy Brownlee. After a too-brief sunset cruise, we came back to a feast of stone crab claws, shrimp in garlic butter and Key lime cake and pie! The only thing better was the incredible company we enjoyed.

Although I brought enough gear to stock a small tackle shop, I didn't get a lot of fishing in. I got up early one morning and slipped down to Bud and Mary's to wander around and make a few casts, and was rewarded with a couple of small mangrove snapper on the Gotcha. They weren't big, but they sure were fun to catch on the quiet, beautiful pink morning.

The kids were worn out on the ride home to Orlando, and so was I - the Keys had done their work perfectly.