Thanksgiving in the Keys

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Dec 3rd, 2011, 05:21 PM
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Thanksgiving in the Keys

So how about nine family members including a two year old spending nine days together for Thanksgiving in the Florida Keys? Only one real fuss! It was for sure a balmy break for DW and self from Boston and also our three children and their spouses plus the DGD (2 year old). We rented a spacious house on Cudjoe Key with a pool. Seems most properties rent by the month but our DS searched this one out on 9th Avenue. As with others the back "yard" is a canal. Everyone has a boat tied up. The area is really a mangrove swamp with water all around. Quite a few properties for sale we noted on our walks. Some houses needing repairs, a fair number boarded up. Maybe owners will come later. Seems the owners by and large can't sell at the necessary price.

Anyway we celebrated a nice Thanksgiving dinner. Several family members arrived or left at various times but all on hand for the feast plus some trips into Key West. One couple took in a glass bottom boat tour en route at Key Largo. DW and I with two others flew early Boston flight to Ft. Lauderdale via Raleigh and met DD who lives in Florida and then rented a Dodge Caravan. Needed the storage space with luggage and with stroller etc. Delay in finding U. S. 1 heading south and then in trying to get cash from an ATM. Landlord needed $700 in cash for the extra days (maybe had prior problems). So Bank America ATM wouldn't let me withdraw $700, nor $500, nor even $200, so I phoned a number for clearance. Anyone else have problems with ATMs when traveling, not overseas but in another state? I kind of like the security aspect I guess.

Several trips into Key West about 20 miles away for groceries and later sightseeing. Took us awhile the rest of the days to finish the left over turkey and the birthday cakes...accidentally ordering two decorated but that was okay since we had two birthdays anyway. Several in laws wanted to fix the Thanksgiving dinner without help what was fine with the rest of us. During the week we did pitch in to do the cooking and cleaning up. And we did find some tasty meals in restaurants during the week in Key West even while finishing up the turkey. This was our first time to the Keys though several family members had been here before. Shedding winter clothes for shorts is great, right? And in Key West anyone dresses any old way.
(more later about Key West eating and touring)
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Dec 4th, 2011, 06:02 AM
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Ozarksbill,

Keep it coming. I'm looking forward to hearing the thoughts of a first-timer about Key West!
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Dec 4th, 2011, 06:11 AM
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Bill, re: ATM issues. The only pace I have had trouble is FL. Now when we go there we call haead to bank.
Am looking forward to rest of report.
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Dec 4th, 2011, 05:37 PM
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Key West is unique, that's for sure. We drove in various times from our Cudjoe Key rental. A tropical breeze blows from the sandy breach across S. Roosevelt Blvd. Parasailing, windsurfing, sunbathing...this is a haven for water sports. (More later on other water sports). One day for a few hours DS and his 2 year old played in the Higgs Beach sand. Hot dog carts are parked along the way. Along the Roosevelt are huge Sheraton and Doubletree hotels and lots more on N.Roosevelt...Key West has many facilities: adventure clubs, time shares, resorts, guesthouses. Guidebooks are full of listings. Some of you may have recommendations.

Key West is indeed a big, big tourist spot for many...and each day a huge cruise shop is likely to be docked adding a couple of thousand tourist to stroll the narrow streets especially in the Old Town. Yes, strolling is a main activity, walking down Duvall or around Front St...what a lot of little shops there are full of touristy items. And of course bars going strong all day like Hogs Breath Saloon with live music blaring forth. Yep, a pub crawl is popular with many. Here and there a little sex shop is noticed. But there is an elegant side to Key West. (more later).

Best way to explore Key West I think for starters is take a guided tour by bus, in our case we went aboard the Old Town Trolley which circles the island. You can also get a conch train. There are places you can get off and back on which is what we did and hopped off for lunch. DD knew of a place down Thomas Street which was great (more later on eating). We had no trouble parking such as in Mallory Square Parking Lot or on a street. What struck me are the many means of individual transportation around Key West like renting bicycles, mopeds, scooters, little electric cars. Most folks do lots of walking in the sun. By the way, a reminder that the temps are invariably in the 80s and you may get sunburned. You may pick out the natives or conchs by their darkened suntanned skin and also long hair and maybe distinctive clothing.

People have been around here for a long time. I am remembering the past history of Key West. Once it was a naval base and there is still a Coast Guard station. Then came a thriving sponge business but it played out...but sponges are plentiful in the shops. Later was a thriving cigar industry which again facing competition...but I did see that cigars are plentiful in shops, too. Then came the railroad built by Henry Flagler, quite an ambitious project down the islands to Key West(more later in a trip to Pigeon Key)
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Dec 5th, 2011, 07:17 AM
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Yes, Key West has its own history and of course today tourism is the "key" to success. Seems there are many festivals and we did see a few "pirates" around. Our family especially enjoyed the Aquarium right off Mallory Square which features several tanks with sharks, sting rays, turtles. The crowd enjoyed the feedings by the attendant when the fish are very active. Kids love the hands on tank holding the sea critters.

Another treat is the Butterfly & Nature Conservatory out a ways on Duvall. Several times a butterfly rested on a shoulder for our close inspection. What colors...blue, orange, yellow. Little DGD was fascinated and for her we bought a book for Christmas.

I had forgotten that Harry Truman had a Little White House in Key West. Look up a Fodors report by bachslunch May 21 for details, which we didn't tour and also mention of the Aquarium and the Audubon House which DD visited being president of her local Audubon Society. Pleasant stroll through the surrounding Truman Annex with palm trees and flowers which offers waterfront condos for sale.

One day we parked near Whitehead an Virginia for a walk to see historic houses (DW's interest). Passed by the Lighthouse and Hemingway Home where the author did write several of his books. Along Whitehead St. we saw fine mansions with classic revival architecture and also the shotgun houses sometimes with additions for family. Also what is called "eyebrow houses" unique to Key West, two story frame with balconies covering second story windows and often around two sides as well.

Then we arrived at an interesting marker: the end of U. S. 1 which is a photo op. On beyond on Whitehead St. the southern most point for another touristy camera pose. Getting hungry we sought out lunch which was at Conch Republic Seafood.

A word about four restaurants we recommend (alternating with finishing leftover turkey and birthday cakes). At Grand Cafe on Duval we found an outdoor table. Ordered shrimp, mahi mahi fish of the day, cheese & fruit plate, panini. Also bloody mary, key west beer, tasty brewed tea. Good place to sit back and relax.

First day in Key West we enjoyed lunch at Blue Heaven, a special outdoor place with tropical ambiance, live music, playground. Don't know why at noon we had a breakfast menu but I relished the rooster special with eggs, grits, sausage, pancakes...named after the roosters all around. Others had omlettes, pancakes, etc.

El Meson de Pepe is just off Mallory Square with a Cuban menu. Popular tourist spot. Lively music with dancing which little DGD insisted we do later on Mallory Square. My fare was completa de caballo grande (pork, shredded beef, beef chunks)...delicious. Others had conch chowder, filet de cherra empanizola, grouper fillet.

And then there is Conch Republic Seafood. It is an open air place, looks old but isn't actually. Mostly seafood on the menu of course. Which we enjoyed such as with key west shrimp but also a spinach salad. Then across the street for key line pie at Hermits...the guy is always standing at the door with his pie! Yes, it is delicious.
(concluding later)
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Dec 5th, 2011, 01:25 PM
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To finish up. Additional choices at Conch Seafood: yellowtail, hearts of palm, Brazilian salad. Then trolling the shops along the waterfront. Sunset cruises leaving the harbor.

A famous attraction in Key West is the nightly sunset celebration on Mallory Square. Quite a crowd gathers with street entertainers each evening. I took some spectacular picts...sails in the sunset.

That's about it for Key West. Alot of our time was at the rental Cudjoe Casa splashing in the pool, chatting, eating, reading, video "Sarah's Key," and a family card game. We were concerned about safety with a two year old but doors to the pool stuck and she didn't try to "escape" our vigilance.

One day trip for our family was a launch over to Pigeon Key pretty much overlooked in guide books. You book the launch at a historic Pullman car museum oceanside before the Seven mile bridge. This little island is where workers were housed who built the railroad down to Key West. An ambitious businessman Henry Flagler hired a work force for construction all the way down to Key West and housing the man on this isolated island was a way of keeping them in check. Working them so furiously to finish is how a nearby key got its name...Marathon.

This ambitious rail project was completed 1912 to link Key West but a 1935 hurricane was disastrous and thereafter a highway was constructed to replace the rail. It is interesting today to see the parallel bridge as you drive along U. S. 1. Fishing off the bridge in certain areas. On Pigeon Key are the bunkhouses and other structures maintained by a foundation. There is some sort of school held here.

All too soon we left so we could have lunch at Bahia Honda State Park (turkey sandwiches of course). Here is a top beautiful beach which is shallow out quite a ways. Finally we packed and departed with a lunch stop (yes sandwiches) at John Pennecamp Coral Reef State Park. Very nice place for snorkeling we could see and DGD really liked the small acquarium. So turning in the van and getting a flight to Boston we left behind balmy Florida. Yes, though a nice nine days we didn't mind leaving this flat string of islands with mangrove marshes and salty air and touristy atmosphere to return to our normal lives. So that's my report.
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Dec 6th, 2011, 06:36 AM
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Enjoyable trip report ozarksbill.

I was tempted to go to both El Meson de Pepe and Blue Heaven but didn't, so I was happy to read your suggestions for both. I stayed at a guest house that must be an "eyebrow house" by your description but didn't know it was called as such, so thank you for that.

Best wishes, Daniel
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Dec 6th, 2011, 07:15 AM
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Excellent report - thank you for sharing. And your timing is great because DH and I will spend our lunch hour planning our upcoming trip to Key West!
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Dec 6th, 2011, 07:29 AM
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Hey Daniel...yes really enjoyed both eateries...both very lively and fun in this fun town. What street was your guest house on? Eyebrow house I borrowed from an old travel review (we collect these from newspapers for future trips).

bennnie, staying right in KW? Being a couple you'll likely do different things than our "gang of nine" driving in from Cudjoe Key. Such as snorkeling, cruises, fishing charter, etc. Some opportunities further up the Keys. We'd been to Florida but the Keys are special.
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Apr 2nd, 2012, 09:05 AM
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Ozarksbill......we have had very good luck with a house rental on Big Coppit Key (MM10). You can rent it by the week or days. We have had as many as12 people there at once and as few as 4. The location is great and the owner a love!
We go to dinner in Cudjoe Key at the Square Grouper - a great restaurant!
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Apr 5th, 2013, 08:05 AM
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ttt for clt1983
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Apr 6th, 2013, 01:41 AM
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Thanks for sharing a lovely report..........
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