Trip Report: Key West Nov 12-16

Nov 17th, 2008, 11:27 AM
  #1  
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Trip Report: Key West Nov 12-16

This was my second trip to Key West and it differed a lot from my previous trip. The last time I visited was back in January 2004 with a group of friends to take a racing (sailing) class through J-World. That week also fell during Key West Race week, when sailors from all over the world descend on Key West for a week of sailboat racing, so the atmosphere was somewhat different from that of a “normal” week (is there such a thing as a normal week in Key West?). I had really enjoyed my time in Key West during that week and decided that I’d like to return some other time to avail myself of all the other activities Key West has to offer besides sailing. This most recent trip I traveled by myself, so unlike many visitors to Key West, my focus was not on bars, but was devoted to sight seeing and soaking up the Old Town atmosphere.

Day 1 (Wed)
I departed Boston on American Airlines bound for Miami. Due to a schedule change since I had originally booked my ticket, I now had a much longer layover in Miami than originally planned. So, after wasting time at MIA, it was finally time to board the plane to Key West. I believe the flight from MIA to EYW took less than an hour, so I was on the ground in Key West by 2pm. After deplaning, I entered the terminal and collected some of the many maps and brochures they have on display and then exited to get a cab. Like everything else in Key West, the cab line up is somewhat informal. Basically, as you exit the terminal all the drivers are standing around and asking if you need a cab and more than likely you will share a cab with others going to your general area. The drive to my B&B, Simonton Court, was approximately 10 minutes, even including stops to drop others off.

I checked in and was given the key to the room I had reserved, SC3- Marigold. Since the property is spread out and in several different buildings, one of the staff will show you to your room and around the property. The Inn building, in which Marigold is located, used to be a cigar factory and the cottages lining the main walkway within the property used to house the workers. I was pleased with my room, the only “complaint” I had was that there was not much drawer space. The room consisted of bare board walls, rattan rug and white accents. The windows are covered on the outside by those wooden louvered shutters, so not much light enters, which is okay since it serves to keep the heat out. The bathroom is of decent size and the shower is very large with one showerhead at each end. This room also has its own private deck complete with table with chairs and two lounge chairs overlooking the pool below.
After settling into the room, I walked around the property and saw how pretty it is. There is a main brick walkway known as Hurricane Alley, lined with beautiful tropical plants. If you follow the walk to the end, you come out at the main pool and cabana where breakfast is served around the pool and at umbrella tables. The walkway is also the place to keep your bike or moped if you rent one—there are trees and trellises to which they may be locked.

After this introduction to the property, I decided to venture out and walk around a bit. Since I was hungry, my first stop was at the Blond Giraffe on Greene Street for a piece of Key Lime Pie. At this location they offer the pie with either whipped cream or their signature meringue topping. I decided to take it with whipped cream and it was delicious! I then walked down to the waterfront near the Westin and around some of the surrounding streets, just to give myself a reintroduction to town.

At around 5pm I went over to Mallory Square for the Sunset Celebration which is held each night. This consists of many street performers and other vendors selling many types of merchandise including jewelry, food and beverage, hand painted t-shirts etc. I bought a lovely hand painted t-shirt there. The street performers range from musicians, to jugglers on unicycles, animal acts and palm readers. If you go, bring spare change and small bills for the shows that you watch. The sunset tonight was nice, but it set behind some clouds. After sunset I walked to El Meson de Pepe which is very nearby. They offer indoor and patio dining and I opted to dine outside. I had eaten here the last time I was in town and enjoyed it, but this time I didn’t like it as well. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t how I remembered it—so either my memory was wrong or it has slipped a bit. I had a mojito which was fine and the bread basket to start out the meal was tasty. It consisted of a garlic type bread and some crackers. The bread is served with 2 dipping sauces—a red or spicy sauce and a green more mild sauce. For my main course I had the Ropa Vieja which is shredded beef stewed with tomato, peppers, and onions. It was served with yellow rice, black beans and sweet fried plantains. It was okay, but not as flavorful as I remembered. They have a lot of choices on their menu though.

After dinner I decided to walk around and window shop in some of the stores and just do some people watching along Duval St. I walked quite a far piece and ended up at Flamingo Crossing for ice cream. The ice creams are homemade and they offer many flavors. In a small you can get up to 2 flavors and in a medium up to 3 flavors. I opted for a medium cup of coconut, chocolate chip and kahlua. It was delicious—all the flavors were very creamy, smooth and flavorful. The chocolate chip was interesting because it is made with tiny micro-chips—very tiny flecks of chocolate, as opposed to a regular chocolate chip with large chunks. Everyone who recommended this place was right—it is great ice cream.

I then made my way back to the hotel for a swim in the pool (each of the 4 pools is open 24hrs) and then to enjoy the night out on my deck.
Miramar is offline  
Nov 17th, 2008, 11:30 AM
  #2  
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Day 2 (Thurs)
For today I had booked the half day sail/kayak with Danger Charters. I left the hotel around 8am, so that I’d have time to pick up a muffin at Damn Good Food. The cappuccino chocolate muffin was really good—lots of chocolate, especially on the bottom. Check in for Danger was at 8:30am at their booth at the Westin marina. We boarded the boat “Danger” at 9am and met our crew of Corey, Meegan and Tony. Our first stop was for kayaking among the mangroves, for which they broke us up into 2 groups. They use 2 person kayaks, so if you are by yourself, you’ll either need to pair up with someone else or with one of the guides. The kayaking was really nice and it was interesting to see the difference between one side of the mangrove island that had not been directly affected by hurricanes and the side that had (more dead/bare trees). There were birds such as eagles, cormorants and pelicans to be seen as well.
After the kayak trip which I think was approximately 1 hour, we re-boarded the boat and headed over to the snorkel spot. They will provide you with mask, snorkel and fins or you may bring your own. They also have wetsuits on hand, but the water was not yet too cold and they weather was in the 80s, so they were not imperative on this day. The snorkel spot is a sponge garden and was different than any other eco system that I’ve snorkeled in before. There were also many lobsters to be seen hiding along the bottom.
After snorkeling for approx 45 minutes (I think) we re-boarded the boat and were served chips and salsa or chips and hummus to snack on. They also offer beer, wine and soft drinks. I really enjoyed this trip and the next time I’d like to do the full day trip. The size of the group was good—not too many people (maybe 20?) and the crew were all friendly and fun. Once again the recommendations for this operation were all correct and I can now recommend them as well.

We docked at 1:30pm I walked over to Schooner Wharf bar for to eat. This was my favorite bar the last time I was in town and it still is. In fact, I think it’s my favorite bar anywhere in the U.S. due to its waterfront location, casual vibe and interesting people. Anyway, it was really busy when I got there so I had to wait a while for my cheeseburger and Dark & Stormy. It didn’t matter though, because half the point is just being there and soaking up the atmosphere.

After lunch I went back to the hotel to sit by the pool. I was lucky the whole duration of my stay that the weather was very warm and sunny. Again around 5pm I walked over to Mallory Square to see the sunset and some of the shows. There was one in particular that had a dog named Cleo and the dog was trained to walk across a tight rope and he also was trained to collect money from the crowd and deposit it in the bucket.

Dinner tonight was at La Trattoria. They have a wide selection of martinis offered from Vigilio’s (cocktail lounge next door) cocktail menu. I had the Raspberry Chocolate Bomb martini and Penne Arrabiata for the main course which is pasta in a spicy tomato sauce. This was a good meal. I didn’t have dessert at the restaurant but instead went to Kermit’s for a frozen Key Lime Pie on a stick. It was good, but the pie could have been more tart.

I went over to Schooner Wharf for a drink and ended up staying longer than I thought due to talking to someone at the bar and running into one of the crew from the Danger Charter trip.

Day 3 (Friday)
Breakfast at the Simonton Court runs from 8:30-10 (I think). I decided to check out the spread and it really wasn’t my taste. I don’t normally eat breakfast unless it’s something really good—like fresh pancakes or banana bread etc. I prefer a more homemade style and the breakfast they offered was more generic—bagels and toaster waffles.

For my morning activity I was tired so decided to do the Conch Train tour. It is a one and one half hour trip around the island and you get to see quite a bit and get a good overview. Sights include the beach area, Bahama Village, and driving past many of the other tourist destinations such as the Hemingway House.

After the tour I walked over to Damn Good Food for a BLT and a chocolate shake for lunch. It was really good.

Next I went to the Shipwreck Museum. I enjoyed this attraction. It’s part regular museum and part living history museum. It starts outside with one of wrecking magnet Asa Tift’s workers recruiting you to work for Mr. Tift. Then Mr. Tift himself comes out and brings you into the warehouse for a brief overview of the wrecking industry. After that you may view the rest of the displays on your own and climb the 65 foot watch tower replica. It is a small museum and it does not take long to go through and view the exhibits and short movies on display. My next stop was the Audubon House. This is mostly a self guided tour except for a brief introduction given on the first floor. The main draw is really the prints of birds drawn by Audubon. It isn’t a house tour in the traditional sense and I can’t say I found it particularly interesting. The grounds and gardens are nice however, and I enjoyed that more than the house. My final stop today was at the Aquarium. It is a very small aquarium—one large room and a couple outdoor exhibits. The exhibit tanks are not as elaborate as some of the larger aquariums, but I especially enjoyed the tank containing the clown fish.

I ate dinner tonight at Michael’s and I ate at the bar. The bar offers full dinner menu as well as a few additional items such as fondue. I had the Key Lime Pie martini, which was excellent—it really tasted like pie and came complete with graham cracker rimmed glass. I ordered the Classic Fondue for my main course—they offer about 5 different fondues. The platter of items offered to dip in the cheese is elaborate and includes carrots, squash, zucchini, sausage, french bread, pretzel bread and smoked chicken. Unfortunately, I was not able to fit in dessert, as I would have liked to have tried their signature dessert chocolate volcano.

After dinner I hit Schooner Wharf bar again for an hour or so before taking a walk down Duval to the Blond Giraffe and getting another piece of pie---this time with meringue topping, as this location of the Blond Giraffe did not seem to offer it with whipped cream.
Miramar is offline  
Nov 17th, 2008, 11:31 AM
  #3  
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Day 4 (Saturday)
Today I decided to rent a bike. I requested it through the Simonton Court and they will contact Eaton Bikes for you and have one delivered to the hotel. For a basic bike, which includes a basket and lock and front and back light it is $18 for the first day. Also when you are done with the bike for good, you just lock it up on the property and give the key to the front desk that then lets the bike place know that they can come and get it. It took about 30min to get it delivered and then I was off. My first stop was the Butterfly Conservatory. I thought this was so nice! Before you enter the butterfly aviary, there is a room with exhibits which tell you a bit about butterflies—such as anatomy, feeding, life cycle etc. Next you enter the aviary and you see a multitude of different varieties of butterflies fluttering around. It’s really pretty inside and relaxing. There are also some small ground birds as well.

Next I biked to the Southernmost Point and then continued up and down the various streets of Key West, admiring the architecture. My next stop was the Hemingway House. There is a choice of self guided or guided tour and you can pick up or drop off the tour at will. I choose to do it self guided, as my main interest was seeing the cats. I saw quite a few on my “tour” and they all seemed to be enjoying themselves. The grounds of the house are gorgeous and the swimming pool is especially pretty; it makes you want to jump in.

By now I was hungry so it was time to stop at the Banana Cafe. It wasn’t that busy, so I was able to get one of the tables on the first floor by the windows. I ordered the Quiche Lorraine which comes with a salad. It was very good—the quiche was thick cut and hearty and the salad had a tasty dressing—though I’m not sure how to describe the taste—maybe it had garlic in it.

I biked back to my hotel to change, as I knew I wanted to do a water based activity this afternoon. I then biked to Smathers Beach where I contemplated renting a Hobie Cat, but it didn’t seem very breezy. I went back to the other side of the island and ended up doing a Wave Runner tour from the Ski Key West booth behind the Galleon Resort. The tour lasts 1.5 hours and you basically circle Key West. It was a lot of fun, but it’s hard to look at anything as you are going pretty fast most of the time. You do make a couple stops at various points though.

Dinner tonight was at Pepe’s. I had the New York Strip Steak with jalapeno macaroni and cheese and corn on the cob. It was good but did not blow me away. The atmosphere was more unique than the food—it’s very casual and it is obvious that they get a lot of regulars there as many people were greeted by name. They offer a lot of different choices for side dishes and vegetables as well. I did however get Key Lime Pie for dessert and it was excellent—this was the winner for best pie of the trip. It was pleasantly tart and the crust seemed spicier than just graham crackers—perhaps some ginger snaps in the crust.

My last stop of the night was at Schooner Wharf—once again I ended up staying longer than I intended (7pm to midnight!). I’m not usually the type of person who can go to a bar and start talking to people—but the people who frequent Schooner Wharf make it easy—they’ll just start talking to you!

Day 5 (Sunday)
This was my last day. I had been lucky all week with great weather and today it was extremely windy and only supposed to get up to about 72 degrees—so that made leaving a little bit easier. I took a morning walk over to Key West Bight and on to Damn Good Food for one last cappuccino chocolate muffin. Then knowing I’d be sitting on a plane for most of the day, I decided to use my bike since I still had it, to stretch my legs and to check out some of the streets I hadn’t yet been down.

I returned to the hotel about 9:45am and asked the front desk to call a cab for approximately 10am. Like many other things in Key West, the cab that came to get me was unique. The driver had a parrot named Mango riding with him outside the cage. The bird was really funny, nibbling on whatever it could find and singing and dancing to the music on the radio. I think that was a fitting end to a Key West experience.

I really enjoyed my return to Key West and I can’t wait to return. I’d say it’s similar to visiting the Caribbean without leaving the U.S.—actually better, as it’s easier and cheaper to get to and on the whole safer I’d say. It’s a really unique place and the lifestyle that people who live there lead is so different than what people from my area are used to. I love how casual everything is and that you can come as you are. Everyone who lives there has a story of how they ended up there.
One thing I’d do differently the next time is to rent a bike for the whole duration of my stay instead of just one day—even though most things are walking distance, having a bike just adds another dimension of flexibility. There are still things I didn’t have time to do while I was there and restaurants I’d like to try, but now I have an even better sense of what to do next time.
Miramar is offline  
Nov 17th, 2008, 12:01 PM
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Join Date: Aug 2008
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Glad to hear you had such a great time. We typically go over Thanksgiving & you just can't beat the weather. I like the Wharf also, cheers!
SAnParis2 is offline  
Nov 17th, 2008, 12:08 PM
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Join Date: Jun 2003
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We leave for our eighth visit early on the 19th and I can hardly wait. Have never checked out the Schooner Wharf though, so we will this time. Thanks for the tip.
rubyc06 is offline  
Nov 17th, 2008, 01:32 PM
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Join Date: Sep 2007
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We made our first trip last spring and did several things you did. Wish we'd found the Schooner Bar, though!

Good report.
Fra_Diavolo is online now  
Nov 17th, 2008, 01:37 PM
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Join Date: Jan 2003
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Thanks for the report!

Any photos online?

Keith
Keith is offline  
Nov 17th, 2008, 02:17 PM
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Join Date: Oct 2007
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I enjoyed reading your report, it made me miss Key West. You frequent a lot of the places that we go to. Always a mojito at El Mason de Pepe's, but the last time we were there they were $9.00. I hate to hear the food wasn't up to par as we usually eat one meal there.

We love the Schooner Wharf too. We try to stay away from any restaurant on Duval Street, but love to walk up and down and people watch.

Our favorite beach in Key West is the one at Fort Zachary Taylor. It isn't as crowded as Smather's Beach and there are some rocks that you can snorkel around and see fish.

The only reason we have stopped going there is the cost. We can go to Costa Rica for a week and spend a lot less.
cgenster is offline  
Nov 17th, 2008, 05:12 PM
  #9  
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Thanks for all the comments.

Keith: unfortunately I don't have any photos posted online

One other thing that surprised me is what a popular wedding destination Key West seems to be. On the flight down there were 3 separate wedding parties and another group attending a wedding on the snorkel trip. I guess I just never thought of KW as a popular wedding location before.

Miramar is offline  
Nov 18th, 2008, 06:33 AM
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Join Date: May 2004
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Thanks for the report, we're heading down in Jan. for a week to escape the NY winter weather.

owlwoman is offline  

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