“The best-laid plans of mice and men…”
I booked a weeklong trip to Key West and South Beach for my husband and me. Living in Buffalo, NY, there isn’t need for much of an excuse to get away to bask in warm, Florida sunshine in January.
So, it should come as no surprise that the week we were in Florida, it was unseasonably cold, cloudy and abusively windy. Not once was there an opportunity to change into shorts or a swimsuit…but I still loved the trip. Here’s why:
We stayed in some wonderful lodgings, ate great food, visited nice beaches, and experienced some great culture and history.
- Ocean Key Resort–Fantastic location, fantastic staff, fantastic room, fantastic views. fantastic amenities. Just…fantastic.
I booked a standard queen room at the resort through hotels.com. Hubby and I were warmly greeted by staff at valet and the front desk. At check-in, we were immediately upgraded to a suite. Nice!
Our porter, Andy, escorted us to the suite. After making sure that any questions we had were addressed, he provided us with a few dining recommendations. He said that anything on Front Street would be good. We took his advice, and ended up noshing at Rum Barrel Bar & Grill.
- Rum Barrel Bar & Grill — The Broncos / Steelers divisional round game was playing on every big screen tv when we arrived. The dress was casual, the food delicious, the portions were huge, and the staff was efficient. Surprisingly, I didn’t drink any rum while we were there, but there’s always next time. Dinner, with tip, ran me $76…which I consider fair for what we ordered. I enjoyed dining at this establishment.
The following day we were scheduled to embark on the Yankee Freedom Ferry for two days of camping in Dry Tortugas National Park. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate with my intended plans. High winds and sea swells between 7′-9′ kept us docked, so I scrambled to get a hotel room for the night. With a room booked at the Southernmost Beach Resort, my husband and I set off to explore the island. We walked the marina of Key West Bight and had an enjoyable morning. All of the walking made us hungry, so we kept our eyes open to find a place where we could get a bite for breakfast. Hidden between the shadows of A&B Lobster House and Conch Republic Seafood Company, we found a little gem of a restaurant, White Tarpon Deli.
- White Tarpon Deli — This restaurant was a terrific find. It’s frequented by locals, and for good reason — the food was tasty and the prices were spot-on. We asked to be seated outside, even though the temperature was in the low 60s. I ordered an orange juice and their “Texas” french toast with blueberries and strawberries ($7.75). It was absolutely delicious.
After breakfast, we walked down Wall Street to Mallory Square where the cruise ships dock. We did a bit of window shopping, then ventured down Duval Street. Purely and simply, it’s a tourist trap, but absolutely enjoyable for people-watching.
While on our walkabout, we ran into a statue of Marilyn Monroe. Needless to say, we couldn’t resist. Sorry, Marilyn!
We continued on our journey to USCGC Ingham Maritime Museum but, as luck would have it, the museum was closed. So, I offered an alternative destination–Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park.
- Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park — This was the best $7 spent on our vacation. There’s plenty of parking and it’s easy to navigate. The fort was originally three tiers and was located 1200′ from the shore of Key West, but a dredging operation landlocked the fort in the 1960s and modernization of the fort included removing the top two tiers. Work has just been completed to create a partial “moat” around the fort to give a perspective of what it might have looked like years ago. When leaving the fort, we followed a bike path. It led us to a lovely beach and park, complete with picnic benches and grills–great for an afternoon cookout.
The day we were here, there were sailboat races. We sat on a bench for quite a while, enjoying the view. As the day was coming to an end, we made way to our lodging for the evening, the Southernmost Beach Resort.
- Southernmost Beach Resort — This is a big resort. We stayed in a first floor room in the Duval Wing across the street from the ocean. It was a small, clean, quiet room with a queen-sized bed. That being said, I don’t know if it would have necessarily been so quiet had our windows been opened. The room opened up directly into the parking lot…not exactly what I was hoping for, but it was slim pickings as many of the hotels were booked, and we needed to be near the ferry dock the following morning for our adventure to Dry Tortugas.
We freshened up and got ready for dinner. It had been a long day, so we decided to eat at the resort’s restaurant and bar located on the beach across the street, Southernmost Beach Cafe.
Our dinner was delicious…from the conch chowder and caprese salad, to the roasted butternut ravioli and filet mignon. The ravioli was, by far, the best meal I had on our vacation.
- We awoke early, packed up, and headed back to the Yankee Freedom Ferry. The ocean swells were rocking at 5′-7′, but the trip was a ‘go’. And what a trip it was! We rocked and rolled and slammed into the ocean again and again. My husband gave his breakfast up to the sea, and suffered the effects of seasickness hours after we alighted onto Garden Key–the home to Fort Jefferson in Dry Tortugas National Park. The winds were wicked and never settled. We picked a camping spot and started setting up our tent. My husband and I deserve an award for perseverance. Setting up the tent took many attempts, and we had to actually retrieve it from a copse of trees once.
But I didn’t mind that the wind was whipping or that the temperature was unseasonably cold. Fort Jefferson was a fantastic journey of exploration, and was worth the $195 ferry ride…even though we missed out on snorkeling due to the poor visibility.
After our camping adventure in Dry Tortugas National Park, we had an uneventful ferry ride back to Key West, and made our way to our next destination…South Beach in Miami. I really enjoyed the laid-back vibe of the Key West community, and I feel as though we had just scratched the surface of the fun to be had on this furthest-most located little key in Florida. There is no doubt that we’ll be back to partake in some more of the keys laid-back attitude. I’m already dreaming of it.