For my birthday in September, we decided to go to Key West. All of us have never been, a bit embarrassing since it is technically in Florida, which is our home turf. We only had a couple of days, so here’s a brief itinerary and a review of what we did and where we went. In the hopes that you can do it too!
There are three ways to get in to Key West: you can either fly (they have a regional airport), get in by ferry from Fort Myers (an option we were looking at before), or drive (longer, but definitely scenic). Since we were supposed to be 5 people, it was more cost efficient to drive (in the end, only 3 of us ended up going, but still more cost efficient).
Within Key West, you’ll definitely have a problem of finding parking, especially during Fantasy Fest. Fantasy Fest is like New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, but on steroids. Imagine so many people packed on an island so tiny. Definitely don’t bring a car during that time. Anyway, back to parking. To get the most bang for your buck, avoid the parking garages. Instead, park on the street. If you don’t see a sign on the parking spot, it means a visitor can park there for a maximum of 72 hours (3 days). Don’t ever park in a spot that says residents only, you’ll need a decal for that.
Side Note/Warning: If possible, find a spot that you can park your car downtown and walk everywhere. Seriously, you’re only going to get gray hairs if you try to look for parking every single time you move your car and drive to a different spot (i.e. if you went to the ferry and want to go to Duval Street to eat). Parking in the garages can get quite expensive, and Duval Street is off limits to cars unless you are staying at some of the hotels in the area. Then again, you pay a premium for valet parking too. Don’t say you weren’t warned!
We decided to stay at the NYAH Hotel (Not Your Average Hotel) – it is close to the pier and downtown where you can just walk around. We got a deal off Expedia, and we got a pretty big room for 5 people with an ensuite bathroom to ourselves. The room feels like a hostel wherein there are bunk beds and your own lockers, but it was definitely a hotel. There was free breakfast every morning, and there are a lot of pools to choose from. We loved the feel and vibe of the place because they were basically houses all combined into one big hotel compound.
On my birthday night, we used our IHG free night (from the credit card) to stay at Key West La Concha. This hotel typically costs around $300+ a night, and is smack dab in the middle of Duval Street, which was where all the happening places are (i.e. where all the shops, restaurants, and, yes, bikers are). This is a luxurious hotel: we got a one-bedroom suite, overlooking the pool on one side, and the street on another side. There is even a couch that can fold out into a bed, where Peter’s brother slept in.
The clincher? They knew it was my birthday, and I don’t know if it was because we had status with the hotel or not (Peter was a platinum at IHG), but they surprised us with a bottle of champagne and chocolate covered strawberries. They also gave me a hand-written birthday card which I thought was actually very thoughtful of them.
Note that La Concha does not include any breakfast with your stay, but they do give you access to the pool (a splash pool more like), and also the gym. The lobby is posh though, do sit there if you get a chance. It is just very pretty. Mind blowing. You see, we wouldn’t have dreamed of staying at this hotel if we were paying in cash. Thanks to points & miles we can make these luxury hotels our home for the night! A disclaimer here: if you’re a top notch blogger with a gazillion followers, you can get comped stays, but we’re not, so yeah, we have to resort to points & miles every time. Beats having to pay for things sometimes, right?
Things to Do
All right, things to do. For an island, Key West has a lot of things you can do, both in the water and on land. We’re only going to list the places we’ve seen ourselves & maybe throw in a couple of other places that we meant to go to, but never had the chance.
Side Note/Warning: You wouldn’t want to go to Key West (or South Florida for that matter) in the summer (late May until like, early September) – the temperatures are absolutely warm (more like boiling), and there’s not much shade to find, unless you stay in your hotel, rent one of those bicycle thingies with a canopy, or go inside a museum. When we went there in the third week of September, it was still hot, so we needed refreshments and ice cream to survive.
Dry Tortugas – Pretty much in the middle of nowhere, it is protected national marine park. There’s only two ways to get there: either by a sea plane or through the Yankee Freedom ferry, both of which cost a pretty penny. We will post a separate blog article on the Dry Tortugas – there’s so many things to say about that island!
Do Water Stuff – When you get to Key West, you’ll see plenty of booths advertising snorkeling, parasailing, glass bottom boat, and other water tours. The biggest of the companies that serve these activities is called FURY.
Ernest Hemingway House – You can’t go to Key West without going to Mr Hemingway’s house. I mainly went there for the 6-toed cats, but Peter and his brother went there because they were a great fan of the works of the writer. To be honest, the house is a bit small, and really, you can tour it within an hour, maybe even an hour and a half if you push it and start looking for cats. The price of admission can be a bit steep, and they only take cash (boo, no credit cards!). We almost skipped it (because Peter and I don’t really carry much cash) so luckily Peter’s brother stepped in and had the cash to pay for everybody!
The Lighthouse – Almost across the street form Ernest Hemingway’s House is the lighthouse. We’ve been to a few of them already so we skipped the entrance fee to go up and see the mini museum. It’s quite affordable, less than $10 for entrance.
Southernmost Point – Technically not the southernmost point of the continental United States, but it comes close to it. Shaped like a buoy that says Southernmost Point, it is easily one of the most popular places to visit in Key West. We had to queue up a few minutes to take a photo of it. It’s quite a great community thing where you take the photo of the people in front of you in line, and you ask the people behind you to take your photo too.
Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park – Though we never really got to go here, this is a spot that was definitely on our list. It has a historic fort and also a great spot to snorkel. We can easily spend a few hours in this spot but since we only had two days on the island (the third we spent trying to travel back to Sarasota), we had to leave it for next time.
Key West has plenty to see and do for a small island. There are also plenty of ways to use your points and miles to get almost free travel throughout your stay in the island. We’ll break down the costs in a different post. Hopefully this article has been helpful for you in planning our stay on the island and making it one of your destinations of choice while in the United States.