A Weekend Getaway – Key West


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Our plan was to go to Bermuda, but my passport had expired and, although I paid for the expedited service, was not ready on time. (PSA of the day: learn from my mistakes and check the status of your passport before booking airline tickets and a hotel.) So… we booked last minute in Key West, which is a perfectly suited alternative for Americans whose travel documents are not in order.

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Where not to stay?

We stayed at Casa Marina, a former property that is now part of the Waldorf Astoria brand. It shouldn’t be. To be fair, the employees were great, friendly and hardworking. Check-in went smoothly and quickly, thanks to the front desk staff and valet team. The outside bar service was efficient and cordial and the happy hour snacks were better than they needed to be. (Try the peel and eat shrimp if you are there.) The staff by the pool has prepared guests well with towels, umbrellas, fruity drinks and smiles. But the hotel itself is in dire need of an overhaul – peeling paint, dated light fixtures, battered paneling in the elevator, water stains in the hallway, leaking air conditioners. It’s not worth it for the high prices and in every way inferior to the actual luxury hotels that are normally associated with the Waldorf name. I don’t often say this, but the location should be completely renovated as it does a disservice to a high end brand.

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Where to eat?

I am happy to say that we ate very well. Four Marlins, on the grounds of the nearby Reach Hotel, was a highlight – we shared an excellent variety of small plates, rich in fresh seafood, in a beautiful setting with very good service. We also had a lovely dinner at One Duval (at Pier House): crabcakes, chowder, grilled fish and a delicious lime pie. Frenchie’s Cafe provided an excellent breakfast (the croissants are outstanding). We didn’t go to Blue Heaven this time, but it’s a Key West classic, highly recommended Caribbean style food with cats and chickens roaming around.

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What to do?

Absolutely nothing at all is a great option. Eat, drink and relax in the sun. If it’s too hot for your comfort, take a dip in the hotel pool or retreat to your air-conditioned room for a nap.

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Or…

Watching people is always fun. Wait until late in the day and head to Mallory Square for the sunset celebration. There you’ll find street performers, tourists from all over, people on party boats cruising and greeting people on the land, and (if you’re there in June) people celebrating pride month, adorned of rainbows. We saw a circular raft topped with a tiki hut floating next to it – it didn’t look particularly stable, but we didn’t see anyone fall into the water either, so maybe it was more navigable than it seemed. You can hit the bars of Duval Street, and you’ll find stag and hen parties, along with all kinds of enthusiastic revelers, cover bands, and cheap drinks. I’m not sure if there are some extremely lax vehicle laws there, or if the traffic laws just aren’t enforced, but there are cyclists and scooters on the sidewalks, and carts golf courses and mopeds and mopeds and small electric cars on the streets, all in a joyous confusion. Also chickens. (Why did the chicken cross the road? To get away from the pedicabs, probably.)

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A view of the Hemingway house – Photo by Laura LaVelle

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Or…

If you’re like me and absolutely can’t stand going anywhere without doing some local cultural stuff, take a look at the Hemingway House. Ernest Hemingway lived there in the 1930s, with his wife, Pauline Pfeiffer. (One of his wives, that is, he had four in total.) He is currently inhabited by a large number of polydactyl cats who rule the place, and who are said to be descendants Snowball, a cat that once belonged to the Hemingway family. . (Various human relatives of Hemingway dispute this account. The truth of the matter may never be known, lost in the dawn of time, but either way, the cats are entertaining and all named after celebrities. visitors are welcome to pet them but not to pick them up.) You can take a tour of the house and property or just poke around and explore on your own, and for $ 17, it’s not a bad deal. The gift shop is also worth a visit – I can never resist buying a book so I bought a copy of The sun is also rising to read again on the way back.

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A cat resting at the Hemingway house – Photo by Laura LaVelle

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The Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservancy is also worth a visit. $ 15 seems like a decent price to pay to walk through a beautiful enclosure of butterflies, tropical plants, and colorful birds (including canaries, finches, quails, and two gorgeous flamingos named Rhett and Scarlett). Butterflies can end up in your hair (there are loads of them fluttering around), so you go through double doors on the way out to make sure you don’t leave with hitchhikers. Of course, there is a gift shop full of everything butterfly related. (I was a little relieved that I didn’t have my seven year old daughter with me there – it probably would have been a much more expensive excursion.)

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A flamingo at the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservancy – Photo by Laura LaVelle

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What else do you need to know?

Well, there is a lot more to do. (This time we were only there for a long weekend!) But if you have the time and the inclination you can go snorkelling, kayaking or scuba diving. You can be one of those people taking a sail at sunset, waving to the people on the shore. You can hire a fishing boat and have dinner. Or drink way too much at Sloppy Joe’s in the Hemingway tradition.

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Key West has changed a bit over the years. It’s still beautiful, but not as colorful, original and artistic as it used to be. I think a lot of it is because a lot of young and creative people have just been overpriced – it’s a lot more expensive to live there than before, alas. Still, it’s absolutely worth a visit, both for its natural beauty and for its wide variety of experiences. Do as much or as little as you want.

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A resident bird at the Key West Nature and Butterfly Conservancy – Photo by Laura LaVelle

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Laura LaVelle is a lawyer and writer who lives in Connecticut, in a century-old home, with her husband, two daughters and a cockatiel.

Laura can be contacted at [email protected]

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IMAGE CREDITS

Introductory photo by Florida-Guidebook on Unsplash; All other images courtesy of Laura LaVelle

Key West, Florida – Photo by Florida-Guidebook on Unsplash


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