Copilot Alex Holladay prepares for departure from the Plant City airport after a fun afternoon with mom and dad at the Florida Strawberry Festival.

Dana and I have lived here in the sunshine state for nearly eight years, but until this spring we’d yet to partake in the annual ritual known as the Florida Strawberry Festival. Since it happened to coincide with our daughter Alex’s spring break from school, we decided to take an afternoon off and fly down to Plant City to check it out.

As I always do whenever we go on a family trip in an airplane, I began by plotting our route in ForeFlight and calling the FBO at the destination to see what our options were for ground transportation. Since the crew car was only available in two hour intervals, and I never like rolling the dice with taxis or Ubers, I arranged for an Enterprise rental car to be delivered to the airport when we arrived, so we’d have more flexibility. The managers at the Plant City Enterprise location are fabulous by the way, and really went out of their way to make sure I got the car I needed, and got it on time.

Dana had to work that morning and we were a little delayed departing Craig, but the weather was great and the 90-minute flight was uneventful. We got a popup IFR clearance to climb to VFR conditions above a cloud layer, but soon canceled and completed the trip under good VFR conditions. Despite this momma pilot’s best efforts, though, Alex’s ears clogged up during the descent, and she cried a bit after we landed. Dad quickly came to the rescue with a trip to the vending machine while I dealt with the rental car, and after chowing down a bag of Cheetos she felt much better.

The festival was a lot of fun and provided us with a much-needed family break from our normal routine. Alex really enjoyed the bungee bounce, played a few games and won a few prizes, and got to ride the Ferris wheel with Dana. After spending a few hours (and a several $20 bills) at the carnival, we picked up a few crates of cheap, fresh strawberries and drove off in search of a quick dinner before heading back to the airport. My iPhone led us just a few blocks away to the best barbecue restaurant we’ve ever visited: Johnson’s in Plant City. If we didn’t have a rental car that day, I’m quite certain we would have ended up eating junk food at the carnival instead of enjoying a relaxing, delicious meal together.

Aerial view of the Florida Strawberry Festival grounds in Plant City.

The flight home was beautiful. We got VFR flight following and the ride was smooth with no clouds to deal with at all. I only climbed up to 3,500 feet and made a super shallow descent to Craig to avoid triggering any additional ear discomfort in Alex. It was the first time I’d flown at night in several years, and with Dana’s coaching I managed to make a decent landing on Runway 5.

It was a good day. Even though there were signs of COVID nonsense all over the place, we were able to just relax, laugh, play in the sun and feel free for a while. Nobody hassled us for not wearing masks. We are so thankful we live in a state that values freedom as much as we do.

For us, flying is the ultimate escape from our ground based stresses and troubles. This trip provided us with a great opportunity to reconnect with our passion for general aviation and appreciate all of the good things in life.