Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Key West - Vacation - 20th Anniversary

My husband and I have been married for 20 years now. We got married in 1996 on October the 5th and believe me it really doesn't seem like it's been 20 years. We don't travel much. We've gone on a cruise to the Caribbean, Las Vegas, DC, Hawaii and now Key West, FL. Seems pretty sad that we've gone to 5 places in 20 years but there you have it.

I decided that our 20th should be spent somewhere else besides home. We wrestled around with a few places and decided to go to Key West. I've heard that Key West is pretty much like any other tropical island in the Caribbean but close to get to and you don't need a passport or have to live on a plane for 12 hours. Hawaii, I love you but that flight sucks. I'm glad we honeymooned there but I probably won't be going back. I can find sand elsewhere.

So we booked our anniversary week, October 1 - 7, at the Tropical Inn off of Duval in the heart of Key West.

We arrived in Key West, FL about 6 hours late due to airplane trouble in Columbus. I hate being lost in the land of airport hell as I put it but what can you do? Nothing. Flight cancellations or delays, missing connecting flights, rebooking another flight and you just hope you get where your going. It was after 9 pm when we got to the Tropical Inn and we crashed.

Key West Eco Tours

After getting an update on hurricane Matthew that was stalking the carribbean, we took off for our first excursion at Key West Eco Tours.  We signed up for a kayak/paddleboard tour of the mangroves. They came and picked us up from our hotel and drove us to Geiger Key Marina, which is about a 20 minute drive from Duval Street. You can get a kayak or paddle board and we chose a tandem kayak or the "marriage breaker" as they fondly referred to it as. I can relate. My husband and I went canoeing once in 20 years and it was a difficult challenge to say the least. But I figure if we only do it once every 20 years we should survive. So we got some basic paddling instructions and off we went. There was a father and son with us along with our guide so there was just 5 of us. Our guide, I believe her name was Jennifer but I could be wrong, was very knowledgeable about the mangroves, all the different species that live there and why they're important and conservation efforts. We paddled around for 2 hours in gorgeous weather and found several young nurse sharks, jelly fish and several different kinds of heron. We had several jet fighters take off over our heads, which was super loud and kinda of annoying for such a beautiful day.

Eco Tours also offer sailing and snorkeling trips as well as sunset sails. We're not much for snorkeling but based on our experience with KWET, we would recommend them.

The Dry Tortugas National Park

On our second day, we took a day trip out to the Dry Tortugas National Park. The national park is 90 miles west of Key West and made up of 7 small islands. Many of the small islands are turtle nesting grounds and are protected. You board the Yankee Freedom III and get ferried to Fort Jefferson. There is a guided tour of the fort or you can go it alone. The tour was roughly 1.5 hours and you're there for 4 hours so you have plenty of time to walk around or snorkel. The guide explained the history of the fort in depth explaining why its out there, how it was built, the people who lived there and how and of course it's role during the Civil War to today.

You're provided with a simple breakfast on the way out and a lunch while you're there and all the water/liquid you want. You definitely need a hat and sunscreen on this trip. We didn't take any Dramamine for this boat ride but if you're sensitive to motion take it. This is a total of 4 hours on a boat and its going left, right, up and down most of the time. Our captain had to dodge a lot of crab pots. Overall a great trip to take if you're in Key West.

Sunset Cruise

On the third day, after once again checking to see what the hurricane was up to, our last excursion we booked was in the evening. We booked a sunset sail with Danger Charters.  I tried to book with another company first but they were booked for the entire month of October in late September so make sure you book any excursions in advance. Like most people I went to TripAdvisor for reviews of what to do in Key West and all of these experiences/companies got high reviews. The sunset sail was also a wine tasting as well. I wasn't sure about that considering I usually don't want to eat/drink anything while in a plane or on a boat but it went really well. There was about 20-25 people on the sailboat and 4 crew members who were funny and engaging with everyone on board. The other travelers were also quite jovial considering going through about 30+ bottles of wine in about 2 hours. Yep, they were a really happy group of people to say the least. Skewers of meat, cheese and vegetables were also offered along with our wines and since our boat wasn't going all that fast, me and my tummy felt okay.

I would definitely recommend Danger Charters. I'm sure they do other things but I can only say that their sunset sail was great.

Key West was really a nice place to vacation to. Its warm all year, everything is in walking distance if you stay on Duval Street but you can rent bicycles, scooters or electric cars/golf cart type things although it can get really pricey to do that every day. There's a lot of gift shops, art shops and definitely food and bars... lots and lots of bars. If you like to go snorkeling or fishing I would recommend a 6 day trip but if you like indoor type activities you're going to be struggling to find a lot there.

We also went to Fort Zachary State Park where there's a beach. You do have to pay to get in but the area has a lot of trees and picnic/grill areas, a nice concession stand, shower areas and you can rent an umbrella and chairs. They can get pricy. For the day 2 chairs and an umbrella will run you $40 at least so be prepared to stay and get your money's worth.

Another beach area is the Higgs Beach and Key West Garden Club areas. Higgs beach has no shade whatsoever but the good thing is there were fewer people here and chairs/umbrella rental was about $20 so a lot cheaper than the state park area. The Key West Garden Club is all run by volunteers and there's a lot of plants there to see if you into that kind of thing.

Indoor Activities

We visited the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory on Duval Street. They have a great gift shop and a really nice conservatory with hundreds of butterflies, plants, birds and 2 flamingos. The website also has a webcam pointed at the flamingos.

We also went to the Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Museum. Mel Fisher found the shipwreck of the Spanish ship the Atoche that was lost is 1622. He found it 1985 after looking for it for almost 20 years. It's hard trying to plan your day not knowing how large/small an exhibit is and we roughly planned for an hour here and that was way too long. Its' a fairly small exhibit, unfortunately.

There was a cannon and sets of hammers and some kitchen utensil type things and some gold and silver items. The Museum is also near the Key West Aquarium and where the cruise ship visitors disembark.

We also thought the aquarium was indoor. It is not. Its more like an open tunnel with small aquariums with fish along the outer walls so there's no air conditioning. There's 2 small pools in the center with turtles and stingrays and an outdoor area with more turtles and a roped off water area around the pier with fish and nurse sharks.

Walking around the aquarium might take you a half hour at most walking slowly. On the way out of the aquarium, there's a nature like water area with some large tarpon and turtles, which leads you to various gift shops.

We also went to the the Key West Eco Discovery Center. This is a very small exhibit that discusses the various types of environments in Florida, various animal species and shows a short 20 minute film about its coastal areas. This is a fairly small center and might take you 40 minutes to get through including watching the 20 minute film.

Our last two days in Key West were free days. We didn't plan anything since we knew there was a hurricane in the Caribbean and we weren't sure if we'd have to evacuate or not. Mostly we just walked around ducking into shops when got too hot or finding a place to eat. Most of the places we ate at were good. We didn't find anything that was horrible. Breakfast ran us around $25, lunch ran around $40 and dinner was around $80-$100 so plan accordingly.

We did find a movie theatre. Tropic Cinema  is run by volunteers and has 4 or 5 small theaters that sat about 50 people. They also let you buy alcohol by the bottle and it was air conditioned. There's also a glazed donut shop next door but they close at 3pm.

The biggest problem we encountered during out trip is when a place is open. There was a lot of shops closed for vacation or renovation during our stay and we only found out after walking several blocks to get there. Some had signs and others didn't. So you may walk 5 blocks only to get there and it's closed but the operating signs hours says it should be open. That was kinda frustrating to say the least. So be prepared.

We had a great time in Key West and hopefully this post will help someone planning on a trip.