Well, we made it out of Key West before Hurricane Ida blew us out of there, but the wind was certainly picking up speed and making things interesting!
Our first stop of course was our hotel to unpack and unwind – the Crowne Plaza La Concha.
Crowne Plaza is owned by Holiday Inn, so I was able to use frequent flyer points to book the room for free, helping to maximize our low-cost travel budget.
We had looked at rooms the previous weekend, and the prices were $575 – $1300 due to Fantasy Fest being in town, and this weekend was no better due to the Jimmy Buffett Parrothead Festival being in town.
I certainly am grateful for a job that allows me to travel places such as this very cheaply, and provides me the flexibility to actually do the traveling. Between a company-provided rental car and fuel, frequent flier miles, and frequent hotel miles, we are able to travel most places for the cost of food and activities.
The hotel is located right on Duval street, and the stage where the Buffet-knockoff bands were playing was located in the corner of the street directly outside our window, which would have made for an interesting (and long) evening if the festivities hadn’t ended prior to our return later in the evening.
I guess those aging Parrotheads retired early for some Geritol and to soak the weary old arthritic bones before crawling into bed!
I’m not much of a history buff, and I don’t think I’ve ever even read any Hemingway, so the house itself wasn’t terribly interesting to me other than imagining how the house must have been quite a palatial estate back in the early 1900’s.
Far more interesting to me were the assortment of polydactyl cats roaming the premises. You really don’t notice much at first other than just how many cats are roaming the premises, until you catch a glimpse of the huge feet. Closer inspection reveals that there’s something quite amiss!
Even with the grey skies and rapidly approaching nightfall, the views were fantastic and really give a perspective of the size and layout of the island.
If you visit Key West, you owe it to yourself to check it out at least once.
Off to Mallory Square, another Key West tourist tradition, to take in the festivities and check it off the list.
Although certainly not enthralled, we were certainly not disappointed.
From the fire jugglers to the 20ft unicyclist to the famous Cat Man, the freaks were out in force.
Yet another of those life experiences to add to the data points in the back recesses of your brain – see it once, check it off the list, and move on to the next.
Duval street, and Key West in general offers a huge assortment of culinary experiences, some great and some not so great.
We opted to walk back toward the hotel down Whitehead street, and wandered into a bustling restaurant called Kelly’s to use their bathrooms.
While inside, we noticed their “Key Lime Margaritas” and decided that they sounded too good to pass up, especially at $4 happy hour prices!
While we were standing at the bar, a gentleman walked past and recommended the happy hour specials, and invited us to come sit with him and his wife by the street for a good view of the nightlife outside.
Although a bit taken aback by the gesture of friendliness in a notoriously “alternate-lifestyle friendly” city, we joined Jose and Charlene for a drink. What a great find this couple was, they are both dual-retired from the FAA and the military, and own an aviation-specific consulting firm to keep retirement interesting. The even greater part of the find for us was the fact that they have sailed all over the world for extended periods of time, and have a wealth of information to help us in our quest for knowledge in doing the same. We chatted for quite some time before exchanging numbers and heading off to dinner.
After a fantastic dinner at Blackfin Bistro on Duval, it was an early night in due to our 9am departure time for snorkeling Saturday morning. As we left the restaurant, we noticed that the entire Parrothead festival had been removed from Duval and things were looking normal again. Well, as normal as Duval street can get I suppose. What a relief – no drunken, noisy old geezers ruining my sleep!
8am comes early on a Saturday morning, even when you’re on vacation. We’re both normally early risers, and it just seems much easier to get out of bed when you know that you have exciting things awaiting you. But alas, it was not meant to be. Our snorkel charter operator called around 8:30 to inform us that due to Hurricane Ida, the ocean was too rough and the visibility was poor due to the water chop. Disappointing, but it’s better to cancel than to be unsafe or have an unsatisfying experience. One of the other things that I give thanks for is the self-awareness to accept an outside force altering my plans without feeling disappointed, and the ability to make other plans on the fly to keep me occupied. I also am thankful for the perfect travel partner with the same qualities, it certainly makes the travel simpler and more fulfilling.
So off to Plan B, which includes, um, well I guess that means that we have to formulate Plan B. We decided to take a walking tour of the historic seaport and Key West Bight, if for nothing more than to stretch the legs out and get a bit of exercise. With both of our nautical inclinations, it was a nice way to fall into Plan B mode. Although the many shops and restaurants are tourist-traps and neither of us are fond of mucha touristas, it provided a change of pace and actually had quite a bit of interesting history.
Since today was to be an exploration day, we explored our possibilities for covering ground more efficiently and with less energy. In Key West, it becomes quickly apparent that scooters and bicycles are the hot ticket due to their ability to navigate traffic easily and ease of parking. Conveniently, there was a scooter rental facility right out the back of the hotel and after a lengthy discussion with the rental guy, he provided us with a city map with his “places to go and things to see” list scrawled all over it. We mentioned that we were exploring due to our snorkel excursion being cancelled, and he quickly scrawled down a few local places where there was good snorkeling without requiring a charter. This quickly pointed our attentions away from exploring and back onto snorkeling! He also mentioned a few local stores where we might be able to purchase cheap snorkel gear, and after a quick farewell we headed out to see if we could find some gear reasonably cheap.
Even though we’re both tightwads, we prefer to spend extra and buy quality where it counts. While discussing our options for purchasing quickie throwaway snorkel gear, we decided that we’d both rather rent than buy something cheap that we would never be happy with. Now off to find a local dive shop with rental gear. A quick search found a shop called Lost Reef Adventures on the boardwalk where we had explored earlier in the morning, so it was back to the Seaport!
The dive shop owner was kind enough to point out that with the current conditions, it was very likely that the sea was too churned up to see anything off the shore, and he didn’t want to rent us gear until we had taken the time to see if we could see anything out in the surf. A very noble gesture that we both appreciated, even though he was turning business away. I would certainly recommend his shop to anyone if for no other reason than the ability to deal with an honest businessman. As it would turn out, we eventually decided to skip the snorkeling completely due to the water conditions.
After a quick lunch at a small shop on the Seaport boardwalk watching the tarpon swim through the harbor, we set off on an afternoon of exploring Key West proper, Stock Island, and Boca Chica Key in the car.
We had made plans with Charlene and Jose to grab dinner, and at Jose’s recommendation had a FANTASTIC dinner at Chico’s Cantina on Stock Island. This was our first introduction to a form of local shrimp called Key West Pinks, and it certainly won’t be our last time having them!
After dinner we were graciously invited to join Jose and Char on their sailboat, a gorgeous new 49’ Jenneau Sun Odessy 49 DS. This is an opportunity that neither of us would have passed on! An interesting twist is that their marina is part of the Key West Naval Air Station open only to active and retired military personnel, and you have to enter the military base to access the marina. Boca Chica Marina is rated as one of the nicest, cleanest marinas there is – one of the benefits of being retired military!
The Jenneau was drop-dead gorgeous both inside and out. From the dual station cockpit to the luster of highly polished wood to the advanced instrumentation, the boat is nautical equivalent of Jennifer Aniston. Just WOW.
We had planned ahead and purchased a nice Cabernet, a bottle of Margarita mix, and some Cuervo Gold – and promptly left it in the trunk of the car back outside the military base. Nice, just nice. It might not have been Colette’s fault, but I’m certainly blaming her :) We spent the evening sipping island rum from Jose’s stock while discussing all things sailing and discussing the details of the boat and the beginning of our foray into the offshore life. It is still amazing to me how we managed to stumble across a couple who are such great nautical resources to have available to us.
With the weather from Ida worsening, there was really no point in us delaying our departure from Key West. We took an early morning walk to snap the obligatory photos at the Southernmost Point in the US, and a yummy breakfast at Denny’s, then it’s back to pack and set off for Miami.
On the way out we stopped at the White Street Pier to watch the Ida-driven surf pound in. While the conditions were killing almost every entertainment option, the kiteboarders were loving the high winds and high surf. One extremely gifted boarder was routinely getting airtime of 10-15 seconds and heights of 30+ feet. Very amazing to see firsthand!
One last stop on the way out is the Key West City Marina, as it’ is well-known for a large population of houseboats. It was rather surprising to us both that most of these are not the traditional houseboats, but rather floating barges with no means of locomotion – a way to live in Key West without paying Florida property taxes. Think “Sleepless in Seattle” with a ghetto twist.
On the drive home, we stopped at a small roadside restaurant called Conch City or something similiar – I was determined that I was not leaving the Keys without trying conch! One conch entree later, mission accomplished. What better way to end a Keys trip than with a traditional Keys delicacy?
All in all, another fantastic weekend. I’m grateful that we both have the ability to roll with the punches, in our travelling life, I think that this capability is what keeps us sane, and keeps the travel enjoyable.
Until next time.