AQuick Trip to Key West

December 2016

The Set-up

After our trip to Club Med Cancun in November we decided we needed one more quick trip to warmer climates before the holidays and winter set in. Short trip means quick and easy travel; had to be someplace interesting and fun and someplace warm. How about Key West? A quick check showed decent fares and rates if we went before winter/high season rates set in. The game was on.

Getting there, staying, and back

I was able to get decent fares on Delta’s non-stop to Key West on Dec 5, returning Dec 9 at good times of day. Both flights were comfortable and on time. On our last couple of visits to Key West we stayed at a Fairfield Inn about 2 miles from downtown but it was fully booked so I found another Fairfield Inn about two miles further out (east) and booked that one. This hotel was OK, but not as nice as the first Fairfield. It was close to a major intersection and our room was the closest room to that intersection so we got quite a bit of traffic noise and a lot of emergency vehicles/sirens for much of the night. Although further from town, the location was still convenient to many activities and places we wanted to go.

One thing worth mentioning is the rental car. As a Hertz #1 Gold Club member I know that when I make a reservation for a small car it is very unpredictable what type car I end up with. In this case we got a Mustang convertible! This is just about the perfect car for driving around Key West, although we only put the top down for one drive, it was still fun.

Note that the name of Conch Republic is much lager than the official Key West.

Getting Bikes

In our past visits we found that about the best way to get around Key West, at least in the daytime, is via bicycle so I located a bike rental place close to our hotel. In this respect, the choice of hotel worked well because I happened to choose a "We Bike" location that is about a 10 minute walk from the hotel. We walked over and picked up our two hybrid bikes after breakfast the first morning we were there. I have never seen rental bikes (or any bikes for that matter) maintained as well as the bikes we got. They were almost new, but absolutely spotless and they rode like a dream. I wish the shifters on my bike at home worked as well as those on this bike. We commented on the condition of the bikes and the owner/manager admitted to being a bit obsessive/compulsive about keeping them in good condition.

Sunday: Arrival day

After the flight down and getting settled into the hotel, we just relaxed a while around the hotel pool. We did make a run to a nearby Publix for the required refreshments, such as wine, cheese, crackers and such. We didn’t have much for lunch so we headed into town for an early dinner and found our favored bank parking lot a couple of blocks off Duval street. On our last two visits to Key West we had eaten at Mangoe’s on our first night and we saw no reason to break that tradition this time so we found Mangoe’s and claimed a table. I understood that Mangoe’s had recently undergone a ownership and/or management change and had some mixed reviews but we had an excellent meal with very good service. It may have helped that we were there early and, for a while, were the only customers but we’ll keep Mangoe’s on our "first night dinner" list.

Monday: A full day

After breakfast at the hotel our first task was to walk to "We Bike" to pick up our bicycles. We rode them back to the hotel and then planned our next move. Well, we didn’t really plan very much; we just headed out in a general direction. We decided to take the southern route to town, south along A1A or South Roosevelt Blvd, past Smathers Beach and then wander around through town toward the marina on the north side of town. A little before getting to Smathers Beach the road goes right alongside the water, separated from it by a sidewalk and low seawall. While riding along here I saw something in the water that looked like a turtle so I told Susan I was going back to take a look. While it was a rather large turtle, it was also rather dead, just floating on the surface so we continued on our way.

The turtles was very large, but unfortunately, also very dead..

We rode past the "Southernmost Point" and up just on the west side of town, past the entrance to Fort Zachary Taylor State Park (been there, done that), up by the Hemmingway House (ditto), and stopped for a quick look around the Mallory Square area.

The marker for the southernmost point, although I don't think it really is.

Another short ride brought us to the primary "small boat" marina at Key West Bight and this is a great place to wander around and look at all the boats as well as the other people looking at the boats.

Looking past the small boat marina with a cruise ship in distant background.

After a self-conducted tour of the area, it was getting close to lunch time and there are plenty of places to eat in the area. We had good luck at the "Conch Republic Seafood Company" on a previous visit so we gave it another try and it again turned in a good experience. A shared plate of fried calamari and some sandwiches had us ready to get on the bikes again. We meandered a little east then south on White Street to make our way back toward Smathers Beach. As we rode along the beach area Susan overheard a Fla. Highway Patrol officer asking some pedestrians if they had seen a turtle so she went back to tell him about our earlier sighting while I continued ahead to see if the turtle was still floating there. I found it in about the same place and waved the FHP officer over to the location. He said that he had gotten a report about a possible dead turtle and was going to report it to the local Turtle Rescue group. When I suggested that it might be a little late to "rescue" this turtle, he said they would probably want to pick it up and try to determine just what killed it. We continued on and by the time we got back to the hotel we decided we had earned a glass of wine and some relaxation by the pool. After all, we had a big evening ahead.

The day before our flight down to Key West was our 45th anniversary and we had not properly celebrated the occasion yet. A couple of days before the trip I made reservations for us to have dinner at Little Palm Island which is about 20 miles up US-1 from Key West and is a rather "nice" resort. I neglected to mention to Susan until earlier that day just what we were doing for dinner. We put the top down on the Mustang (the one time we did so) and drove up to Little Torch Key where Little Palm Island Resort has a welcome facility and we checked in.

The launch they actually used was larger than this beautiful old wood boat.

At the welcome facility you get on a launch and take a 20 minute ride out to the resort and our boat ride was just after the sun had set and it was very pretty that evening.

Although the sun had already set, the sky was beautiful.

At the restaurant we were seated at a table literally on the beach with our feet in the sand. When the hostess gave us the menu, it was titled as "Mr & Mrs Hammock’s 45th Anniversary Menu" and of course we kept that as a souvenir. Nice touch. As we sat there several small "Key deer" wandered by, obviously looking for handouts but we did as requested and refrained from feeding them. We had a lovely meal with good appetizer, great entrees, a good bottle of wine, coffee for dessert and very good service all around. When finished, we wandered back out to the dock and chatted with the captain and first mate until time to depart. As we were getting on board they mentioned that "the best seats in the house" were all the way forward and up through the hatch. We found out what they meant; you could stand at/in the hatch and your head and shoulders were above the deck at the very bow of the boat. We had a great unobstructed view with the sea air in our face as we motored back to Little Torch Key. If you are in the area and want to celebrate a special occasion, I highly recommend dinner at Little Palm Island.

On our arrival at Little Palm Island the conditions were just right for a memorable photo.

Tuesday: a bit more relaxed

After breakfast at the Fairfield we hopped on the bikes and headed into Key West again by a very similar route as the day before. This time we got an earlier start and we had more time so we made a couple of more stops along the way. At Smathers beach we parked the bikes at the west end of the beach and walked the length of the beach to the east and back again. Seaweed had been washing up on the beach and in some areas it was rotting and making a rather unpleasant odor: we walked past those areas quickly. We rode on to White Street Pier and took a walk out on it to take a look around.

From White Street Pier we could see a large cruise ship heading for Key West.

Back on the bikes we again wandered through town and stopped to look around Mallory Square and that part of Key West, which is "tourist central" especially when there is a cruise ship in port, as there was this day.

Next to Mallory Square was a small park with a memorial to seamen lost at sea.

After being in the area the previous day, we knew our way around a little better and soon found ourselves at the marina again. We wandered around the docks for a while and then started looking for someplace to eat lunch but after checking out several other places, we again ended up at the "Conch Republic Seafood Company", this time trying their very good Cuban Sandwiches. Directly across the walkway from where we were eating, one of the sailboats used for "Sunset Cruises" was docked and a guy was selling tickets for that evening. We thought about the idea some and decided "why not?". After eating we purchased tickets for that evening’s sunset sail on board the "Jolly Rover".

The Jolly Rover at the dock while we ate lunch.

We liked the idea that the Jolly Rover cruise was not a "booze cruise" in that they did not serve any alcohol at all but you were welcome to bring your own beer or wine on board to enjoy. We headed back toward the hotel, wandering around a bit again on the way, and then relaxed around the pool after the ride.

At the appropriate time we grabbed a bottle of wine, got in the car, and headed for our appointment with the Jolly Rover. The cruise turned out to be much better and more interesting than we ever expected it would be, for a number of reasons. The Jolly Rover is a true old schooner with an interesting history: a little over a year prior to our cruise it was the first USA sailboat to sail into Havana harbor in over 50 years.

One of several other classic sailboats doing a sunset sail.

The crew was a mixed and interesting group also. The captain had participated in a race of Hobie 16 catamarans from Key West to Cuba; that is over 90 miles of open water on a 16 foot sailboat. His Hobie was one of several that had to be rescued along the way and the Jolly Rover was one of the "support boats" for the race which is how it got to be the first US sailboat in Havana Harbor. Besides all that, the Jolly Rover had something none of the other sailboats had: a cannon! Well, it was a rather small cannon, but it was loud and did produce a good deal of smoke so it was effective when we fired it toward other boats.

A pretty sunset as seen from the deck of Jolly Rover.

It turned out to be a beautiful evening on the water with just enough breeze to allow us to sail without the motor most of the time. The sunset turned out to be colorful and long lasting. One of the great parts was seeing multiple other old sailing ships out on the water at the same time; the big modern catamaran tour boats out there also just seemed out of place.

Some of the other classic sailboats out on the water this evening.

As we sailed back into the marina the area was all lit up with colorful Christmas lights which seemed to be welcoming us back.

As we return to the marina, it was all ablaze in colorful Christmas lights.

All in all, we had a very nice sunset cruise to cap off a pleasant day.

Wednsday: paddling instead of pedaling

After two days of biking around Key West, we were ready for something different. We decided to try paddling instead of pedaling. We found a kayak Mangrove tour that was going out that morning with space available for us. The launch area had a bit of an “industrial” flavor to it, but we got fitted out with kayaks, paddles, and PFDs and were on our way.

Some of our kayak tour group with Susan closest to me.

We were paddling in a bay between Stock Island, just east of Key West and Boca Chica Key, where the Key West Naval Air Station is located so the peace and quiet of paddling around in the mangroves was occasional disturbed by the sound of jets landing/taking off at the NAS. The tour consisted mainly of going through multiple narrow paths through the mangroves making up a couple of mangrove islands in the bay. I actually thought our “self-guided” kayak mangrove tour we did on a previous visit several years before was more interesting, but this one was good and the guide was pleasant.

Kayaking in one of the narrow passages through the mangroves.

By the time we finished the tour and got back to the hotel it was early afternoon so we ended up walking to a nearby Publix and getting fresh made sandwiches which we took back and ate, accompanied by a little wine, around the pool where we relaxed the rest of the day.

Thursday: Heading home

This was the day we were to return home and we had most of the morning available before we had to catch our flight. We got on the bikes and headed east alongside US-1 on the “Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail”. I understand there is some form of bike trail almost the entire length of the keys but we only went about 5 miles before deciding it was time to head back. We stopped at the bike shop and returned the bikes and took the short walk back to the hotel where we packed up and checked out.

The flight home was unexciting (a good thing) and we had brought along some “leftover’ cheese, dry sausage, and crackers for a pleasant picnic on the way home. The trip turned out to be a fun, relaxing, and warm way to get ready for the winter season.

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