Summer is when the stream of tourists to South Florida slows, deterred by hot, wet weather and the threat of hurricanes. It’s when rates at beachfront hotels plummet, spas and restaurants offer special deals, traffic eases and locals can enjoy discount staycations.
But how can we spend those leisure days when we’ve logged out of the office email and need an alternate source of entertainment? Many tourist attractions, especially in the outdoors, close or cut their hours in summer. Sure, you can spend your time circulating among air-conditioned bars, museums and movie theaters, but why not take advantage of our only-in-Miami venues?
The Miami.com team and I went looking for fun and not-so-obvious things to do on a summer staycation. We got sunburned, rained out, bug-eaten and blistered, but we’ve come up with a week’s worth of distinctively South Florida activities. Grab your sunscreen and your comfortable shoes and follow along, from south to north.
• Cruise canals on the African Queen
Two matters needed to be resolved at the outset of our ride on the African Queen: What was in the wood box labeled Gordon’s Gin? And was I about to occupy the same bench where Humphrey Bogart once sat?
Alas, the box was a cooler that contained only bottled water. And no, Bogart had never sat on this particular bench — the wood had been replaced since the movie starring this very same boat was made in 1951. But the tiller is the one that Bogart, as the cranky drunk Charlie Allnut, used to pilot the African Queen, Capt. Wayne tells us. And if I wanted to sit on the same surface Bogart had sat on, he had spent a lot of time stretched out on the old mahoghany planks at the bottom of the boat. I declined (although my answer might have been different if there had been enough gin in the cooler).
The African Queen (the boat) is a 30-foot steel-hulled steamship that was built in 1912 as the S/L Livingston to navigate the upper Nile River. It was leased by John Huston for the making of The African Queen (the movie) and subsequently renamed. Later, the boat was brought to the U.S. and used for charters, abandoned, rediscovered, given a makeover, used for rides, then put on display when the engine died.
Last year, Lance and Suzanne Holmquist rehabbed the boat — including replacing the broken steam engine and boiler with a 1896 model as noisy as the one in the movie — and began offering rides along Key Largo’s canals.
The African Queen holds up to six passengers on its 90-minute cruises down the Port Largo Canals to the Atlantic Ocean and back, but my two friends and I were the only passengers on a sunny weekday afternoon last month. Capt. Wayne, wearing a shirt and kerchief identical to Bogart’s, explained how the steam engine works, showed us photos of the making of the movie, and took pictures of us pouring liquid out of a gin bottle, much as Katharine Hepburn had done in the film, or handling the tiller as the African Queen sailed away from the dock.
As we cruised slowly past waterfront homes, the steam engine hissing and clanking, a tattered old Union Jack fluttering and Capt. Wayne judiciously tooting the steam whistle, I conjured up a picture of Bogart and Hepburn fleeing on the Ulanga River and was glad we were instead in Key Largo trying to outrun nothing more than white clouds drifting in a blue sky.