Keys Trip Report

Old May 20th, 2005, 08:55 AM
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Keys Trip Report

My husband and I (late 30s, adventurous, foodies) just returned from an absolutely perfect 6 days in the Keys. We took most of our ideas from the April issue of Cooking Light, which featured an article on how to enjoy four days in the Keys. Here's what we did:

Flew NY - Ft Lauderdale dirt cheap on Jet Blue. Rented a car and drove to Key Largo. No traffic, took little more than an hour. We had lunch at the Marriott in Key Largo and it was pretty good.

In Key Largo, stayed at Tarpon Flats, an adorable little bed and breakfast that is romantic, spotless, and has its own tiny beach which is perfect for lazing and stargazing. We got a special "sweethearts" deal which included a free sunset catamaran cruise with a two-night stay. Also included was a bottle of wine and a plate of fruit and cheese which was waiting for us in our top-floor room when we arrived.

The evening we arrived, we sailed on the catamaran (the Reef Roamer) for the sunset and optional snorkeling. Champagne served. We had dinner after at The Buzzard's Roost, which was recommended by the hotel and was exceellent. We capped the night stargazing on our little private beach. The visibility was good enough to give that dome effect, and I saw a shooting star.

Next morning (Day 1) we had a bagel and fruit breakfast at the hotel and headed straight for Dolphins Plus for a free-style swim with the dolphins. An awesome experience. We had lunch after at a place called The Galley. Excellent fish tacos and "hog wings". Laid on the hotel's beach for the afternoon and had dinner at The Fish House. We actually didn't have dinner there, we sat at the bar and got an assortment of seafood appetizers, which were all delicious.

Day 2: Up early, checked out before breakfast and headed south. Stopped in Islamadora for the best cream-cheese topped cinnamon buns in the universe, ate them at Anne's beach, and then met our captain on Duck Island for a chartered boatride (Skimmer Charters). He took us on a tour of the flats, and we birdwatched (saw a Bald Eagle!) and fished a bit. A nice experience. After, we had Stoneclaw Crabs for lunch at Keys Fisheries in Marathon. Then we meandered around, checking out the Florida Keys Wild Bird Center in Tavernier, The Rain Barrel Village back in Islamadora, and then the Worldwide Sportsman store which is huge and has a boat on display which is similar to Hemingway's Pilar. Also they have a 6,000 gallon saltwater aquarium. We walked next door to the Morada Bay hotel and had drinks on the beach and a snack from the beach barbecue. Then we headed down to Key West, stopping at Bahia Honda for a little while. Once on Key West, we dumped our car and checked into the Weatherstation Inn. This place can't be beat. It's a historical building in the prettiest neighborhood in town, one which you need a key to get into after 6pm. Highly recommended. After checking in, we headed straight for Duval Street. Had drinks and a snack at the Hard Rock where we sat outside and watched the people go by. Then we wandered around the local spots (Sloppy Joe's, Margaritaville, etc.) until we were hungry enough for dinner. We ate at Blue Heaven and were blown away by the fish specials.

Day 3: We walked from the hotel quite a ways to Jose's Cantina, hoping for a Cuban breakfast with plantains. They had no plantains, so we just had eggs and bacon with Cuban bread and cafe con leche. It was alright, but probably not worth the walk. Afterward, we went for a dive with SNUBA. This outfit is cool, they allow you to breathe underwater via a long tube attached to a raft on the surface of the water. Pretty cool, and we saw lobsters, starfish, sea urchins, and some pretty fish and coral. We were hungry after this and headed straight to the Conch Republic Seafood Company. We loved this place. A very long bar, and a great open air setting by the historic seaport make for a good drinking spot. We had a couple of Mojitos and some shrimp and conch fritters. Then we headed back to the hotel (a frozen chocolate-dipped slice of Key Lime pie on a stick on the way) to shower and change and walked to Mallory Square for the sunset. It's OK, I don't really go for the carnival-like atmosphere, but it would be appealing to children I guess. After this we went on a stargazing cruise aboard the Western Union, a historical old schooner. We enjoyed this, as we love stargazing. The visiibility wasn't great because they don't go out very far, but the astonomer did a great job of pointing out and explaining the constellations. A romantic way to end the day. Wine and conch chowder are served onboard.

Day 4: George, from Downwind Kayak Tours, picked us up at our hotel, and we headed out to do some kayaking. What fun! He picks routes that are downwind and not difficult. We kayaked though mangroves, along reefs where we could snorkel. This was one of my favorite excursions, we really enjoyed this. Afterward, we were trapped off Key West because of a bad traffic accident on the main road. So he took us to a local seaside bar where we had something to eat and a couple of beers. Then he dropped us off back at the hotel and we relaxed by the pool for a couple of hours. We headed out after for a nice drink at the outdoor bar at the Hilton, and dinner at the A&W Lobster House. Dinner was excellent (sat outside) but it felt a little too much like a NY steakhouse for me. Not that that's a bad thing, just something I can get anytime. We ended the night at Captain Tony's, the original site of Sloppy Joe's.

Day 5: A free day with nothing planned. We had breakfast at Camille's. We went because we heard they were known for their shrimp and lobster omelettes, but there were none on the menu when we were there. We didn't really care for this place. The service was awful and my husband's omelette was a plate of slop with grizzly meat in it. Not worth the $30 tab. We spent the rest of the day wandering around, checked out the Hemingway House. I loved it, but I have been a huge fan for years. It might not be interesting for the average person, and the entrance fee is $11, double what it should be, IMO. We wandered around, taking a few pictures and then took a taxi to the southern side of the island for lunch at Louie's Backyard. This is such a serene, relaxing spot. Perfect for a couple of gin & tonics and a light lunch. We wandered around some more after that and found a nice souvenir at Mary O'Sheas glass garden. We wanted to take the Conch Train tour, but we had already walked most of the Old Town by this point so we didn't think it was worth the $50 it would have cost for the both of us. I think it's only worth that if you could get off and on at will for the day but this is not the case. However, everyone who has taken it says it's great. Do it the first day you arrive if you are going to do it. We wound up back at Conch Republic later in the day for happy hour because we loved the bar and the atmosphere. We spent out last evening wandering Duval, stopping once again at Hard Rock, and a few other spots. We were heading over to the Green Parrot, but we wound up at a local little smokehouse called the Meteor. We split a plate of pulled pork and sides and gabbed with the locals.

Next morning we went back to Blue Heaven for breakfast. Expensive, but worth it for finally finding those seafood omelettes. I ordered juice and the waiter didn't ask small or large. He brought a large which was huge and cost $6. He also described a special as having both steak and shrimp included, but when the bill came we were charged for a special with a side of shrimp. So be careful there. It was entertaining to watch the roosters; a unique place worth visiting. We then headed to the airport to pick up our car and drove back to Ft Lauderdale, stopping again at The Galley for lunch.

I think we covered a lot of ground on this trip, yet it was thoroughly relaxing and we still have much we'd like to do on a return trip. I want to eat at Pisces and Mangia Mangia, and I want to check out some more water activities and museums. There's plenty to keep you busy in the Keys, but you have to be pro-active about setting up activities. The people were warm and friendly for the most part. Food and drink can get expensive. I can definitely see the similarities to New Orleans, especially when you compare Duval with Bourbon Street. Weather was breezy, sunny, and comfortable, except the final two afternoons which were very hot.

Happy to answer any questions...
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Old May 20th, 2005, 10:12 AM
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Excellent report, looks like you had fun! However, as someone who is quite familiar with driving up and down the Keys, I am astounded at what you did on Day 2! Key Largo to Marathon for a boat trip/lunch, back to Tavernier, then down to Key West making several stops along the way. And STILL getting out on Duval that night! I was getting tired just reading it.
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Old May 20th, 2005, 10:12 AM
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Chrissy, thanks so much for the great trip report. DH & I are headding down to Key West for the first week in June with friends. I too enjoyed the article in Cooking Light Magazine. Did you investigate any other kayak tours? This is something we definitely want to do. Yours sounded like a very good experience. Do you mind sharing what the cost was?

Also, do you think Louie's would be good for dinner, or better as a lunch spot? Trish
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Old May 20th, 2005, 12:30 PM
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Larry, LOL because I forgot even mention that on Day 2, after drinks at Morada Bay, we drove across the road to check out the Chicca Lodge for a glass of wine on the oceanside. Really nice place. I heard it was just redone, but they kill you with a $39 daily mandatory resort fee.

Trish, I did not check out any other kayak tours. This one costs $65 per person, or $120 for two people to share one kayak. We each got our own, it's easy to do.

We went to Louie's for lunch because a couple of people said they have major attitude at dinner. I can see how that could be true. However, I'll bet that dinner in June with such long daylight hours would be a very nice evening, and the menu is probably even more interesting than it already is at lunch. It's a gorgeous place with delicious food. I was just not willing to risk attitude on this trip, as I really needed to destress!
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Old May 20th, 2005, 12:37 PM
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I love the Curt Gowdy Lounge at Cheeca Lodge and yes it is expensive.

Excellent report chrissy. I can't believe how much detail you remembered!
 
Old May 20th, 2005, 01:38 PM
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Chrissy, thanks for the feedback regarding the kayaking (did you book in advance, or while you were there?) and on Louie's too. Our friends are treating us to their timeshare on this trip, so we want to take them for a nice dinner in appreciation.
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Old May 21st, 2005, 04:48 AM
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Trish, I booked the kayaking about a week in advance. I don't think you have to, if you're not sure what your schedule will be. George will work with you if you call when you're already down there, but I'm sure earlier is better so he can plan around it. Louie's is the perfect spot to treat your hosts to dinner.
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