by Erin Thursby
When the charm of yardwork and duties of every day home life wear thin, sometimes a little weekend getaway is just what Dr. Cupid prescribes. For Jacksonvillians, St. Augustine is a popular spot for a short romantic getaway. Their B&Bs have competitive rates, and some even have great last-minute or weekday deals. My husband and I opted to go on the weekend.
We stayed at the Casablanca Inn. Most people recognize this iconic hotel upon seeing a picture, because the white pillars and frontage on Avenida Menendez is eye-catching. A stay at the Casablanca includes a hearty breakfast served by a great staff, a parking spot close to the hotel (dear indeed in historic St. Augustine) and a $15 credit at their Tini Martini bar, over looking the bay.
They’ve got quite a few packages worth looking at- stay for two nights till November 4th and you get a free Eco Tour for two complete with a bottle of champagne. There are lots of other romance packages to choose from as well.
The Inn has three buildings on its grounds, the Main House, the Coach House and the Secret Garden. The main house faces Charlotte Street. We were in the Coach House. While people most often request the Main House, perhaps because many of the rooms have an excellent view of the bay, I loved the Coach House. Not as many cars go by, so it feels restful and romantic. We relaxed on our small porch facing the quiet brick street. The Secret Garden Suites are better for longer stays, as they have kitchenettes and dining areas. As the name says, the suites are in a secret tropical garden tucked away in a side street you would never find without direction.
We enjoyed drinks at the Tini Martini bar, in the front of the Main House, people-watching as horses trotted by, carriages and tourists in tow.
Zach McKenna has a passion for conserving wildlife and it shows. He runs St. Augustine Eco Tours in the marina next to the Bridge of Lions. You can, of course, book a tour outside of the Casablanca Inn’s deal. They have many different tours you can take on various vessels. You can kayak, go on on a gorgeous catamaran or, like we did, hop aboard one of their rugged little research vessels. Unlike most boats I’ve been on, it’s not a struggle to hear the guide, because the research vessel’s engines are quieter and the ride fairly smooth, even when we ventured toward the sea waves.
While the main draw of the tour is the dolphins that frolic in the Matanzas, there’s no guarantee that dolphins will appear. Most of the time they do, but you can’t force nature. We got very lucky and saw several pods, including some tiny, just-born babies that were still learning how to swim properly. The baby dolphins were awkward, unlike the graceful adults that sliced through the water with ease. I always thought that dolphins knew how to swim by instinct, but Zach told us that it’s actually a learned behavior, like walking is for humans.
Because it’s a research vessel, they do have some interesting equipment. The last two pods of dolphins we encountered began talking to each other underwater, and thanks to the equipment, we got to listen in.
Though dolphins are an exciting part of the tour, Zach McKenna is knowledgeable enough about local flora and fauna that he can tell you about them as you encounter them. We saw several species of birds in our travels. A flock of gorgeously pink spoonbills waded by the shore. He pointed out tiny lady terns waiting on pilings for their suitors to bring them fish.
The next day, after a soak in our room’s hot tub and a super-comfortable night on a Sleep Number bed, we walked Old Town, battling the heat and looking for places in St. Augustine to visit besides the usual St. George Street haunts. There’s a lot more to St. Augustine than most tourists hit, you just have to leave the beaten path by renting a scooter, taking a bike or being willing to walk a little further. We hit a few antique stores we hadn’t been to before (a nautical antique store and a hodgepodge booth-based store) and we scored some awesome Dat’l pepper hotsauce at one of St. Augustine’s specialty hot sauce stores.
We had a romantic, relaxing time a world away from Jacksonville, though it took us less than an hour to get there.
Romantic Weekend Getaway
by Erin Thursby