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Trip Report Key West, FL November 2011

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After not having been to Key West for three years, I decided another trip was in order. The first week in November was the week I wanted to travel, but I was a bit concerned about the fact that my trip would coincide with the annual Parrot Head festival (Meeting of the Minds or MOTM). Any time a large group of people with one interest gather in a small area it can overwhelm the area for non participants, so I was unsure of what to expect or if the timing of this trip was a good idea. In any event, I decided to plunge ahead anyway. I did this trip a little differently than my previous ones due to the fact that I decided to drive one way from Fort Lauderdale to Key West. I had two reasons for my decision to drive--one being I have never done the drive down the Keys and wanted to experience that and the other reason being I didn’t like the flight schedule with a later than desired arrival into Key West. I can be very particular about my flight schedule when I travel in order to maximize my vacation time and I favor connecting in certain airports (if non stops are unavailable) depending on where I am going. When I go to Key West I like to fly American and connect in Miami. I figure that if the flight from MIA to EYW is delayed or canceled or I miss the connection, I then have the option of renting a car and driving down rather than being stuck in a much farther away city. Anyway, this time American didn’t have any arrivals to suit the schedule I desired, so I came upon the decision to try the drive.

I flew out of Boston on Tuesday night on a 6:34pm Jet Blue flight bound for Fort Lauderdale. I chose to fly to FLL and drive from there rather than MIA since the area is less congested, the airport is smaller and getting a rental car is simpler there. My flight ended up taking off about 6:50pm and landed a few minutes early at approximately 9:50pm. The rental car center is a shuttle bus ride away--at first I walked by the shuttle bus pick up area as I didn’t think it was very clearly marked, but I soon found it and proceeded to take the 5 min ride to the rental car center. The rental car center at FLL is a multi story building with several rental agencies on each floor. I rented through Budget so I proceeded up one level. I got a Kia Forte and made my way out of the garage to the hotel. I had Google mapped my route ahead of time and also done Google street view ahead of time so that everything looked familiar when I was driving. I proceeded to my hotel, the Fairfield Inn Fort Lauderdale Airport and Cruise Port which was about a 5 minute drive from the rental car center and easy for me to find. The Fairfield Inn shares a parking lot with the Homewood Suites which is right next door. I checked into the hotel and was assigned room 368. The room had a blue, green and light wood color scheme. My one king bedded room was fairly small especially considering the hotel is not located in a big city downtown area where space is at a premium.

The hotel rate included a breakfast buffet consisting of a fruit plate, cereal, pastries and sausage sandwich. I opted for just a cup of passion fruit/orange/guava juice and enjoyed it while sitting by the outdoor pool.

I left the hotel at about 9:30am on Wednesday. I would have liked to have left earlier, but one of my goals was to avoid the worst rush hour traffic. From the hotel I continued West on Griffin Road until I hit the Florida Turnpike South. I took the Turnpike all the way to Route 1 and then took Route 1 all the way to Key West.

Of course I wanted to make some stops along the way and my first stop was for lunch in Key Largo at Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen. I got a bowl of the chili with onions and cheese and I got a Key Lime Freeze. The chili was quite meaty and hearty and I really liked the Key Lime Freeze, which was like a frappe (milkshake for everyone not from Massachusetts).

After lunch I drove to Coco Plum Beach and from there to Robbie’s Marina in Islamorada. Robbie’s had a nice kiosk selling art set in frames made from old lobster traps.
In addition I stopped at the parking area for the old Seven Mile Bridge and also stopped at Bahia Honda State Park. At the seven mile bridge I parked and walked out a ways on the bridge to take photos. At Bahia Honda I concentrated on photos from the beach of the old railroad bridge. There were many other places I wanted to stop along the way, including the Turtle Hospital in Marathon but I just didn’t have time (as it is I got into Key West later than I wanted---only 30 minutes earlier than the flight I refused to take).

Including all the stops I made, I made it to Key West Airport to drop the rental car by about 4pm. I then got a cab to my bed and breakfast, Simonton Court. This was my second time staying at Simonton Court. This time I had booked the TH3 room Coco Palm. This is a small room in the Town House building of the complex but it has a private deck which I enjoyed. I think a B&B is the way to go in Key West instead of a large hotel. Many of them are set in lovely garden settings and are set in neighborhoods alongside residences. Staying in an environment like this really helps you experience the essence of Key West.

Shortly after checking in I asked the hotel to arrange a bike rental for me for the duration of my stay. They use Eaton Bikes and the bike gets delivered right to the hotel about 5-10 min after they request drop off service. They come and you take care of payment, get your seat adjusted and they give you a brief run down on traffic rules (such as not riding on the sidewalk along Duval Street). The bike includes a lock and lights.

Next, I decided to go to the top of La Concha Hotel to see the sunset. I’d never been to La Concha before, so that was something new for me. It was less crowded up there than the hurly burly of Mallory Square and there is a bar if you want a drink while enjoying the sunset.
Tonight the sunset was at 6:47pm since we were still in day light saving time. After sunset I went to Michael’s for dinner. If you want a table, make a reservation. I knew I wanted to eat at the bar, so a reservation was not necessary. Tonight even the bar was filled up at 7pm and I was lucky there was one spot left. Eating at the bar , I seemed to be only non-local. I got a Key Lime Martini and the Classic Cheese Fondue. They have an extensive fondue menu, but you can only get the fondue if you eat at the bar area. The fondue is served with breads, vegetables, fruit and meat to dip and is huge! I wish I had room for dessert, but I just couldn’t fit it in. After dinner I went to my favorite bar in the world, Schooner Wharf Bar for a couple Dark and Stormys to kick off my vacation.

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    Thursday morning I went to the Old Town Bakery to get a pastry for breakfast ( I didn’t care for the included hotel breakfast). They had many delicious looking items and I choose to get a Linzer. This was a sort of crumb cake with raspberry filling on top. I thought it was quite tasty.

    From there I rode my bike over to the Westin marina to check in for my Danger Charters half day snorkel and kayak trip. It was only myself and 4 other people. In fact, because there were so few of us, they asked if we wanted to be upgraded to the full day tour for the price of the half day. Luckily all of us agreed that we would rather do the half day, as we had other things we wanted to do in the afternoon. So off we went to board our boat, Danger. Our crew was Captain Don and crew member Evan. Our first stop was for kayaking around the mangroves. The kayaks are 2 person boats so if you are by yourself you will either be paired up with another passenger or with the guide. Since the other 4 people on our tour were together, I was paired up with guide Evan. We kayaked around the island and Evan pointed out and identified the various birds for us and explained about the mangrove eco-system. We saw herons, egrets, ibis, pelicans, cormorants, osprey and even bald eagles. After kayaking we re-boarded the boat and went to the snorkel spot which is a sponge garden. Once again crew member Evan pointed out various sightings such as lobster, queen angel fish, a cowfish and a moray eel. Once we were done with snorkeling we got back on the boat and they offered beer and wine and brought out chips with salsa and hummus dips. I really enjoyed the trip---having such a small group was really lucky as it made it more personal. The last time I went to Key West I did the same tour with Danger and liked it as well but we had a bigger group that time.

    After the cruise I went to lunch at the White Tarpon and had a Cuban sandwich and a Key Lime Martini. The sandwich was good and I enjoyed the martini. I had also had a Key Lime Martini the night before at Michael’s and this one is a bit different. The one at the White Tarpon is not creamy, while the one at Michael’s is--they also taste a bit different. I liked both of them--but I suggest trying both and doing your own taste test!

    Next I walked to Mattheessen’s and got a chocolate chip cookie. Of course due to the extreme size of their cookies I could eat only a small portion of it and save the rest for another day. I then spent the afternoon sitting by the hotel pool.

    For sunset tonight I went over to Mallory Square and enjoyed a Mojito form the Mr. Mojito truck at the Westin. I loved this Mojito! It was sweeter than some that I’ve had in the past and very minty. It was a nice way to wait for the sun to set. After taking lots of sunset pictures it was time for dinner. Tonight I chose to eat at El Meson de Pepe which is right at Mallory Square. I dined outside on their patio and enjoyed the live music. They bring garlic bread with 2 dips to the table--one dip is a red hot sauce type of dip (sort of like hot wings sauce) and the other dip is a green almost chimichurri style sauce. For the entrée I had a combination plate which consisted of Lechon Asado (roast pork), Beef Picadillo (seasoned ground beef) and Ropa Vieja (stewed beef with tomato, pepper and onion). It was served with yellow rice, black beans and maduros (sweet fried plantains). I enjoyed each of the items but it was a lot of food and I couldn’t finish.

    Next I walked over to Schooner Wharf Bar and had a Dark and Stormy while listening to the live music. SWB was much busier than in other times I’ve been there I think due to the Parrot Heads being in town. I didn’t stay long at the bar and instead walked down Duval to Flamingo Crossing for ice cream. I got a regular size dish of chocolate chip and kahlua (this tasted more like coffee than kahlua) and enjoyed the smooth, creamy texture of the ice cream that they serve. On the way back I walked by the Green Parrot to see if anything was going on there but it was pretty quiet.

    Friday I got up at 6:45am to ride my bike to the White Street pier to watch the sunrise. I had never done that before and it was nice. There were quite a few other people there as well. After sunrise I got back on the bike and rode to Coffee Plantation and got a pecan sticky bun. I then spent a couple hours just riding the bike around and taking photos.

    At 9:30am I went to the Key West Lighthouse and climbed up the lighthouse to the top to admire the panoramic views and then looked in the small museum that is housed in the old keepers quarters. After that I went to Kermit’s for chocolate dipped Key Lime Pie on a stick and ate that in their garden dining area out behind the shop.

    I spent the rest of the morning until 12:15pm riding around and taking pictures. Then went to lunch at Blue Heaven. I arrived about 12:15pm and they were just taking names for the lunch service while they finished up breakfast. I had to wait about 30 min before they were ready to start lunch. Once the breakfast crowd was gone though it was not too busy. It didn’t seem like there was really any wait for lunch once they started service. They had several items on the menu that sounded good, but I ended up with the Grilled Cheese Sandwich which is served on a thick sliced multigrain bread with white cheddar and tomato. The side was a slaw (non mayo based) that tasted like it had cilantro in it. I also had the Banana Heaven for dessert which is banana bread with caramelized bananas, rum sauce and vanilla ice cream. It was fairly rich and I couldn’t finish it.

    After lunch I biked to West Martello Tower which is a garden run by the Key West Garden Club. The garden is planted in an old civil war era fort and looks out on Higgs Beach. It’s not that large but has some nice displays.

    After that I went back to the hotel to sit by the pool until it was time for the nightly sunset ritual.
    Around sunset time I walked to the Westin. A strong breeze picked up and blew dark clouds over the sun so the sunset was not that impressive. It was a cold front going through; I stayed on the leeward side of the Westin to avoid the wind. I ended up leaving early to go to dinner at Southernmost Beach Café. I had a margarita and the chicken quesadilla. For dessert I had the Key Lime Pie-- they serve theirs on an Oreo crust. The pie was fine but not tart enough for my taste and I think the chocolate flavor competed with the pie flavor which is why their pie needs to be more tart.

    I finished the night once again at the Schooner Wharf Bar. The band was really good. It was Jim Morris and the Big Bamboo Band. I met some members of the Sarasota Bay Parrot Head club this evening.

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    Saturday morning I was due to go on a dolphin watch/snorkel cruise with Catamaran Echo. I received a call at 7:45am canceling the tour due to weather. It was fairly windy and a bit cool but it really wasn’t clear from what they said whether it was really a weather issue or whether the other people who were due to attend canceled out so the entire trip was canceled (they alluded to this). If it was truly a weather/safety issue then I understand--but if the others wimped out due to a little cool weather then that is kind of annoying. I guess the proof would be if other companies went out that morning or not. So that left me without an activity for the morning, so I took my time getting ready and then biked up to Old Town Bakery to get a ham and cheese croissant. It was good- the croissant was flaky, light and buttery and had a nice balance of cheese to ham. After that I went over to the Mel Fisher Museum since I’d never been there before. Mel Fisher was a salvage diver who found the wreck of the Spanish ship the Atocha and many of the artifacts and treasures that were found are displayed in the museum. After the museum I decided to make a pit stop and get a slice of Key Lime Pie from the Key Lime Pie Factory (Outlet) on Greene Street. The pie was nice and tart, but the crust could have been crisper. Next I rode my bike over to the Butterfly Conservatory. I went there the last time I was in Key West and enjoyed it so decided to repeat it. They have some exhibits about the butterfly life cycle and then you go into a walk through exhibit where butterflies and small birds flutter freely around. Sometimes the butterflies will land on you. There are many different varieties and sizes that are housed there.

    I decided it was time for lunch so I rode over to La Creperie and dined outside on their small front porch. I selected the Poire Belle Helene crepe which had chocolate, pears, sliced almonds and vanilla ice cream. I enjoyed this and then decided some exercise was in order so I rode my bike up and down various streets just enjoying the atmoshphere.

    At about 2pm I decided it was time for some more pie--this time at Pepe’s. The last time I was in Key West this was my favorite Key Lime Pie. This time was no exception---what makes it so good is the crust. They use gingersnaps or some other spices in it (not really sure what they use) instead of the usual plain graham crackers. They spray on a liberal amount of whipped cream and garnish with a wedge of lime. The pie is still good, but I don’t think the crust was quite as flavorful as I remember. I also took this opportunity to order one of their margaritas for which they squeeze fresh limes. The margarita was good as well. Saturday afternoon was the perfect time to go to Pepe‘s, as it was not too busy and plenty of seating was available both at the tables and at the bar. Happy Hour is 4-6pm daily so when I walked by during those hours it was really busy.

    Now it was time to go back to the hotel and sit by the pool to relax before heading out for the night. The hotel has 4 pools and you may use any of them, though 3 of them lend themselves to being mostly used by the people staying in the units that open out onto them.

    At 5:30pm I decided to get an early dinner and try to squeeze it in before the sunset. Tonight my choice was Roof Top Café. I was seated on one of the decks that does not have the large tree overhanging it so it was not quite as atmospheric as it could have been, but it was nice to look down on the people passing by below on Front Street. I had the Key Lime Colada to drink, which is basically a pina colada with Key Lime liquer blended in. For the entrée I had the Roasted Pork Tenderloin which was served with a black bean and corn salsa and cumin lime mashed potatoes. Of course I could not pass up dessert, and once again I opted for the Key Lime Pie. This was a very good piece of pie with a consistency not to soft and not too hard and a nice graham cracker crust and garnished on top with a real slice of lime. (Disclaimer--I don’t normally have multiple desserts per day when I’m at home-- I only do it on vacation!)


    I got out just in time to enjoy the sunset at nearby Mallory Square and it was a nice one this evening. Viewing space was more limited today, as a wedding party was taking up some of the normal space along the Westin waterfront, plus it was the weekend which probably brings in weekend trippers. After the sunset I went back to the hotel to have them print my boarding pass for my flight home the next day.

    I headed back out around 7:15pm and went to the Schooner Wharf Bar as usual. Since I was a little earlier tonight, I actually scored a seat at the bar. I met Brad from Wisconsin who was traveling with some members of his Parrot Head Club. We spent much of the evening at the bar and enjoying the band that was playing which was Homemade Wine. He headed out around 11:15pm and I opted to stay for one more round and savor my last night at my favorite bar. After that I went over to The Bull and met up with him and his friends there for another hour or so before parting company with them, as they were all going to move on to another bar and I decided to go back to the room to pack up my stuff. Tonight was the end of daylight saving time so it was necessary to set back the clock so it wasn’t really as late as it seemed due to the time change.

    Sunday was my last day in Key West. I got up and just decided to take a random bike ride and see where I ended up. I rode up to Smathers Beach and spent the morning just riding up and down streets in that area and then coming back to town for yet another piece of Key Lime Pie, this time from Key Lime Pie Company. This pie had a soft consistency and a firm crust, but lacked the tartness I crave in a pie.

    Check out from the hotel was 11am so I went back to store my luggage in the lobby for another hour.
    For lunch today I had an early lunch at Cuban Coffee Queen. I opted for the Cuban Mix sandwich and an iced Cuban Coffee. The sandwich was huge and delicious. I’d recommend splitting it between two people. It had mustard, mayo, lettuce tomato, pork, ham, pickles, onion and swiss cheese. I really liked this sandwich-- the pork flavor did not overwhelm like it can on some. The iced coffee was also good and the ice cubes they use are made with coffee in them, so as they melt it does not dilute your drink! What a good idea!

    I then stopped at Kermit’s for one last piece of Key Lime Pie. This pie was nicely tart with a medium soft consistency but a fairly soft crust. It’s hard to say which of the quick serve places I tried have the best pie in my opinion (it’s really too bad the Blond Giraffe closed, as I think theirs used to be the best quick serve pie) but I guess if I had to award a winner in the quick serve category it would be Kermit’s. In the sit down category and also the overall winner I still give the edge to Pepe’s. I think I need to go back to Key West though and continue this very important research.

    At 12pm I went back to the hotel to claim my luggage and turn in my bike. With Eaton Bikes when you are finished with the bike, you simply lock the bike up at the hotel and then the hotel calls them to let them know you are done and they come and pick up the bike. The hotel called me a cab to go to the airport and I was off at about 12:15pm. I was lucky enough to get Mango the parrot’s cab. This is the second time I’ve been lucky enough to end a trip to Key West with Mango. If you are not familiar with Mango, Mango is a pet parrot that rides around in a the cab van. Sometimes he (she? not sure) stays in the cage and other times sits on top of it. It’s a fitting way to end a trip to Key West though by riding to the airport in a cab that has a resident bird. Only in Key West.

    I got to the airport at about 12:30pm for my 1:55pm flight which was plenty of time. Since I was already checked in, I could proceed right to the non existant security line. I didn’t notice any lines to check in for flights either-- they airport was not very busy.

    I was flying American and we boarded on time and had a very efficient and quick boarding which enabled us to take off on time. We arrived Miami early but sat on the runway waiting for the steps to be brought over due to a shift change at the time. My next flight was not for 2.5 hours so I had plenty of time in the airport to sit and write my trip report! My next flight also departed on time and we arrived Boston a little early.

    As usual my trip to Key West was very enjoyable. There are still many things I’d like to do and see but much of the charm of Key West is just being there and soaking in the unique, laid back atmosphere. The architecture is lovely to look at, the gardens are lush and the water sports are plenty. I mentioned at the start of my trip report that I was unsure of going during the MOTM. I think it did make it more crowded than my last trip (when I was lucky enough to not have any festivals going on) but the people all seemd nice and were not too rowdy from what I experienced. Besides the more crowded bars, the only other difference I noticed was that many of the bands catered to their genre of music, which was fine with me since I enjoy that sort of music anyway. It did seem like most of the people around town had Parrot Head credentials hanging round their necks so I definitely felt a bit in the minority though, not being there with the group. This year the group had a real treat though --Jimmy Buffett actually came down and played on Duval St on Friday for their street party! I wish I had caught that, as that would have been great to see. Word also had it that Nadirah Shakoor was at SWB on Friday night before I got there and sang a little with the band that was playing there. Anyway, anyone who is not a Parrot Head and contemplating a trip to Key West during the event, I don‘t think you have anything to worry about; I‘d do it again if it happened to fall on the week I wanted to travel. Key West has so many festivals/weeks that it can seem like there is always something going on, no matter when you go. The best thing about Key West to me is the climate, the relaxed vibe,and all the varied things there are to do and see. Best of all it’s fairly easy to get to and it’s the closest thing you’ll find to the Caribbean without leaving the U.S.

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    Great report on a great place! I could feel that atmosphere and see the streets. Hmmm. Maybe in February!

    My one comment, entirely personal, is that as a person on a low carb diet for health reasons, I would have died about Day 2 from your meals! But enjoy!

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    Yes, well I'm lucky enough to be thin enough to be able to eat whatever I want when I go on vacation. At 110 pounds I don't have to worry about what I eat when I go away--as long as one eats sensibly when at home is what matters to me.

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