I’m just going to start his post by saying that I’m a terrible, spoiled snob about my vacation spots. I’ve visited Hawaii several times with my family and Brian and I went to Koh Samui, Thailand for our honeymoon. I warned him that starting off with a five star, tropical island resort was a terrible idea…. I’d expect everything to be that level from then on, but he insisted…. *sigh* He really has no one to blame but himself.
So that’s my basis of comparison for everything now.
Me: It’s not Thailand
Brian: Not everything can be Thailand
We had some time to sneak off by ourselves for a few days. Since we live in Florida now I thought going to the Keys would be fun… and close…. but it’s not really ‘close.’ From Jacksonville it’s still a five hour drive just to the first Keys and another three to Key West.
I’m perfectally content to sit in the car, listen to music, Snapchat and nap. Brian could probabaly drive forever. We stop at pretty places and I take a few photos and then we drive again…. we’re good Road Trippers.
We took the A1A or Hwy 1 most of the way down. I’d expected there to be more places to stop along the way… beaches, parks, cute little shops…. but not so much.
(Brian told me to edit this and point out that there are cute shops, resturants and sandy beaches between Jacksonville and the Keys. Once you get into the Keys things change.)
We finally stopped at Long Key State Park and learned that the Keys don’t have sandy beaches…. unless you’re at a resort that had sand trucked in. Huh, okay…. We paid our $6 and wandered off into the park. The Ranger told us that we could get to a rocky beach, so we figured we’d give it a try. Or, at least I thought we were going to the beach…. Mr Let’s See Where This Trail Goes led us off on a one mile hike through spider infested woods instead.
When we’d passed the front gate I saw something fuzzy cross the road and I asked the Ranger what it was and he said it was a raccoon. In Missouri when we saw a raccoon durning the day we worried about rabies and distemper because raccoons are usually nocturnal… so Day Racoons = Bad, but the Ranger didn’t seem concerned.
There were more racoons in the woods along the path… the narrow…. very quite…. spider infested path.
We finally found the ‘beach’ which was actually just a strip of road and rocks with ocean on the sides. They had BBQ grills and picnic tables, but not what I was thinking when I heard ‘beach.’ It was fairly crowded already so we decided just to keep heading south through the Keys.
We hadn’t booked any hotels… I just wanted to wander and see where we landed. Aside from the pictures I’ve seen online I didn’t really know anything about the Keys and I just wanted to take our time. It’s just a bunch of little islands… how lost could we get? But the lack of planning/destination was just killing Brian.
We stopped at a Visitor Information Center as we entered Key Largo. I was thinking it was the usual State Travel/Welcome Center that you come across on the highways as you enter a new state…. noooope. This was a commercial travel center. They’re selling shit.
Now, I’m not entirely opposed to the commercial travel center… they’ve gotta pay the bills too, so if they make a commission for booking my reservations and I get a bit of a deal and good recommendations for going through them then that’s fine. Win-Win. What I am oppose to is the ‘used car salesman’ joking, badgering and juggling. We kept getting tossed between sales people. One did hotels, the other tours. Neither one could focus on the task in front of them or figure out how to use their own damn computer and they were both trying to work multiple groups of people. (Form a line, help each group in order. Duh!) I’d have left, but Brian was having heart palpitations from the lack of trip planning and reservations.
This is one of our big differences as a couple: When I’m with a group I plan everything down to the last second. I make itineraries. I have binders. I set alarms on my phone. I am ORGANIZED. I once earned the title ‘Evil Tour Guide Barbie.’ I’ve never lost a vacationer and the pictures always look great. The truth is though…. I HATE traveling like that. It’s no fun for the tour guide to lead 10 whiny people through a trip and answer ‘where are we going’ and ‘what’s for lunch’ ninetyeight times an hour. I like to just wander off and see where we end up. No schedule, no real destination. Brian hasn’t had to play tour guide as long as I have, so he doesn’t quite understand my aversion to ‘planning.’ Usually we compromise by choosing hotels in advance and leaving the days relatively open for wandering…. but this time I tried to skip reserving hotels and it was just killing him apparently.
So we suffered through the sales pitches and finally got it down to a tour, a restaurant and a hotel. Brian was relieved but I wasn’t even entirely sure what we’d booked or IF it had even been booked at all. The whole thing felt sketchy to me. (Since we survived the tour and the hotel I can tell you that it had all been booked and it did work out, but this still isn’t my preferred way of making reservations… it felt way too used car salesman-y. Just know that when you go in and be prepared.)
We got reservations at the Pegasus International Hotel in Key West. The sales lady said it was right in the center of things and they had a special price in it. (We ended up paying $159 a night vs the $200 a night that I saw on Booking.com) The hotel was right in the middle of things…. read ‘noisy,’ but most everything was in a reasonable walking distance. It’s an older hotel, recently remodeled… ‘cheaply.’ (Cheap laminate floors, makeshift upgrades in the bathrooms.). Not high end, but clean and functional. I liked the location because we could walk to most of the stores and resturants, but it was quite noisy at night when all the other people were still out drinking or the trash and delivery trucks were out preparing for the next day. If we visited again I might check out The Garden Hotel of the Southernmost Hotels. They were set a few blocks back and looked pretty.
I wanted to get a photo at the Southernmost Point Marker…. but the line was crazy long. (I’d read that it would be.) Brian and I ditched the line and stood in front of the wall. I caught a few photos in between the groups taking their photos. (We weren’t in anyone’s way, so I figure this is totally fair… I angled Brian’s head to block the couple standing next to the marker and I think we actually got a better photo by being a little further away from it.).
We also got a photo at the “0” mile marker.
The shopping wasn’t quite what I’d expected either. I was expecting something more along the lines of (again) Hawaii or Hot Springs, AR with an even mix of art galleries, tourist crap and nicer shopping. There were art galleries, but much more expensive ones, mixed in with ‘tourist crap.’ (Offensive t-shirts, lots of smoking/hookah stuff… I’m not complaing about the cigars, those make sense here…. and tacky souvenirs.) I was hoping for the local artist galleries… but I didn’t see much of that. Maybe we didn’t make it to the right area?
There were tons of food options. You could just roam around and eat all day. Even looking for Gluten Free food was easy. That’s a whole other post!
On our second day we took a sailboat tour with Danger Charters. It was a bit overcast that day so we didn’t get roasted on the boat, but I think that effected the snorkeling visibility and the kayacking location.
I’m having trouble rating this tour… to compair it to the snorkeling/catamaran tour in Hawaii or the snorkeling/power boat tour in Thailand isn’t entirely fair…. Partially I think the weather kept us from potentially better snorkeling/ kayacking areas. I loved the sailboat, but I’m pretty happy anytime I’m in a boat. The water was a murky green as we snorkeled and a darker blue as we sailed…. not the beautiful turquoise that I’d been expecting.
The crew was great. They fed us constantly (with plenty of gluten free options like fruit, hummas, salsa & chips and a ‘make your own sandwich’ spread of chips, deli meats and cheeses.) and offered wine, beer, sodas and water every time we turned around.
It was a smallish sailboat with room for twenty passengers and three crew. The crew, food and sailing were great, but I wasn’t impressed by the snorkeling and kayaking… again… consider my basis of comparison. If you’ve never been to Hawaii or Thailand, you’d probably love this tour.
The Florida Keys aren’t what I expected…. I like em…. It’s not Thailand…. or Hawaii… or New Orleans for that matter (though Key West has some similarities). If you can swing the air fare, go to Hawaii. Always choose Hawaii. The little islands of Thailand are also phenomenal, but depending of your starting destination the flight time (17 hours from LAX to Bangkok) is a killer. If you’re looking for fancy resorts and beaches I’d suggest Mexico. The all inclusive resorts and air fare are much more reasonable than Hawaii….. but it’s NOT Hawaii either.
I was plenty happy with a three day trip, but we certainly could have spent more time taking other charter tours. There are jet ski, glass bottom boat, sail boat, kayack, SUP, parasailing and diving tours. There are also the historic walking and tram tours too. If we’d have stayed longer I would have liked to see the Earnest Hemingway house. You can rent bicycles, motor scooter and golf carts to get around since parking is limited and there are a lot of one way streets. Of course that makes things more interesting if you’re trying to walk and not be run over. 🙄
I enjoyed Key West. I’d recommend it…. and I’d be happy to go back sometime…. but I’m not in any big rush.