A month ago, we decided we should book a long weekend for Memorial Day. I learned the hard way that Memorial Day Weekend is not the last weekend in May, but rather the last Monday. So I booked the wrong weekend, but we were set to go to Key West.
What I learned along the way:
Don’t visit Key West if you are uptight or offended easily. This is not the destination for you. Anything goes in Key West, and the locals like it that way.
Do go ‘water glamping’ while you are there! It’s the newest thing in Key West. Hotels in Key West are overpriced, and you’re right in the middle of the city. Rather, rent a sailboat for half the price of a hotel room and sleep soundly on the water! No sailing experience necessary. But let’s be clear, this is not a 5 star resort. It is very much like camping, only you have specific comforts (AC, bed, and basic head). There is not a shower onboard, but the marina has fantastic, clean showers. If you are looking for budget accommodation, this is the only way to go. The marina is outside of the city and quite quiet. There is also plenty of marine life to keep you occupied as you chill on your sailboat.
Do rent a car (yes, a white convertible mustang), and do the drive down to Key West. It is very scenic, and the 7 mile bridge is great.
Don’t expect 5 star resorts beyond Key Largo and Key West. It is all about the little spots.
Do visit the John Pennekamp State Park, the only coral reef National Park. It is absolutely gorgeous for diving or snorkeling. I am a diver, but the reef is so shallow, the snorkeling trip is just as good. The reef is well preserved and protected. The Coast Guard will ticket you $500 if they see you standing on the reef (this makes me a happy mermaid). The amount of fish on the reef is amazing; be prepared to see schools of Queen Angels, Butterflyfish, Tangs, Groupers, Grunts, and Parrotfish. There is life everywhere! There is also a resident Bull that lives on the reef (yikes!), but we didn’t see it. It is also worth noting that the Captain nor mate get off the boat. No matter if you are diving or snorkeling, you are on your own. Divers, don’t forget your diving compass! Most of the trips do not provide a dive master, but you can hire one for an additional $70.00. Admission into the park is $9.00 per person. The park is open every day of the week.
Don’t take the time to go to Key West beaches. They not very picturesque. The Keys do not have sandy beaches like other places in Florida (except the man-made beach at Bahia Honda State Park), so don’t expect that anywhere. What makes the Key West beaches not worth the price of admission is the amount of seaweed on the beaches and in the water. It is everywhere. At least the beaches are free of trash though. If you are looking for a great beach, definitely go to Bahia State Park (about 30 miles from Key West and just past the 7 mile bridge).
Do spend your days on the water, especially if you are a diver or snorkeler. The reef stretches from Key Largo to Key West, and it is the 3rd largest reef in the world. It is about 6 miles out, so you need a boat or tour to get you there. The most pristine part of the reef is at the Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary. There is a great little PADI dive center and motel on Ramrod Key, Looe Key Diver Center. They take trips to the reef every day. If you’re lucky you may get to see the 8ft hammerhead on the reef.
Don’t pack dress clothes. You will not need them. The Keys are laid back, so leave the high heels and neckties at home.
Do eat at Off the Hook Grill in Key West. It is a great little spot with an eclectic menu and tasteful wine list. The man ordered the ‘catch of the day’ which was Hogfish wrapped in duck bacon, and I ordered the spicy shrimp & grits topped with pork belly. In the madness of Key West, a meal here will make you feel like an adult again.
If dessert is your thing, try the Key West pastry shop called ‘Better than Sex’. Then, you be the judge.
The Key are easy to get to and a quick drive out of Miami. Although there has been a substantial amount of change and development in the Keys, some things never change. It is still Key Weird and wonderful! I love it.