A Weekend Getaway – Key West

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

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Where not to stay?

We stayed at the Casa Marina, an old property which is now part of the Waldorf Astoria brand. It shouldn’t be.  To be fair, the employees were terrific, friendly and hard working.  Check in went smoothly and quickly, thanks to the front staff and valet team. The service at the outdoor bar was efficient and cordial and the happy hour snacks were better than they had to be. (Try the peel and eat shrimp if you find yourself there.) The poolside staff set up the guests nicely with towels, umbrellas, fruity drinks, and smiles. But the hotel itself is badly in need of an overhaul–chipped paint, dated fixtures, dinged up paneling in the elevator, water stains in the hallway, leaky air conditioners. Not worth it for the high prices and in every way inferior to the actual luxury hotels which are normally associated with the Waldorf name. I don’t often say this, but the location should be extensively renovated–as it is, it is doing a disservice to a high end brand. 

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Where to eat?

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

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What to do?

Absolutely nothing at all is a perfectly good option.  Eat, drink, and lounge in the sun.  If it gets 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…

People watching is always fun.  Wait until late in the day and head over to Mallory Square for the sunset celebration.  There you’ll find street performers, tourists from all over, people on party boats taking cruises and waving at the people on the land, and (if you’re there in June) people celebrating Pride month, decked out in rainbows.  We saw a circular raft topped with a tiki hut floating by–it didn’t look particularly stable, but we didn’t see anyone fall into the water either, so maybe it was more seaworthy than it appeared.  You can head over to hit the bars on Duval Street, and you’ll find bachelor parties and groups of college students, and all manner of enthusiastic revelers, cover bands, and cheap drinks.  I’m not certain whether there are extremely lax vehicle laws there, or if the traffic laws just aren’t enforced, but there are bicyclists and scooters on the sidewalks, and golf carts and pedicabs and mopeds and small electric cars in the streets, all in happy confusion.  Also chickens.  (Why did the chicken cross the road?  To get away from the pedicabs, probably.)

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A view from the Hemingway House – Photo by Laura LaVelle

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Or…

If you’re like me and you absolutely cannot bear to go anywhere without doing local cultural things, check out the Hemingway House.  Ernest Hemingway lived there in the 1930s, along with his wife, Pauline Pfeiffer. (One of his wives, that is: he had four in total.) It’s currently inhabited by a large number of polydactyl cats which have the run of the place, and which reputedly are descendants of Snowball, a cat once owned by the Hemingway family.  (Various Hemingway human relatives dispute this account.  The truth of the matter may never be known, lost in the mist of time, but in any case, the cats are entertaining, and all named after celebrities.  Visitors are welcome to pet them but not to pick them up.)  You can get a tour of the house and property or just poke around and explore it yourself, 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 picked up a copy of The Sun Also Rises to reread on the way home.

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A cat in repose 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 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). The butterflies may well end up in your hair (there are an awful lot of them fluttering about), so you go through double doors on the way out to make certain that you don’t leave with any hitchhikers.  Of course there’s a gift shop full of all things butterfly-related.  (I was a little relieved that I didn’t have my seven-year-old daughter with me there–it would likely 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’s plenty more to do.  (This time we were just there for a long weekend!)  But if you’ve got the time and inclination, you can go snorkeling, kayaking, or scuba diving.  You can be one of those people taking a sunset sail, waving to the people on the shoreline. You can charter a fishing boat and catch yourself some dinner.  Or have far too much to drink at Sloppy Joe’s in the Hemingway tradition. 

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Key West has changed a bit over the years.  It’s lovely, still, but not quite as colorful and quirky and artsy as it once was.  I think that’s largely because many of the young and creative people have simply been priced out–it’s much more expensive to live there than it used to be, alas.  Still, it is absolutely worth a visit, both for its natural beauty and for its wide variety of experiences.  Do as much or as little as you like.

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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 an attorney and writer who lives in Connecticut, in a 100-year-old house, along with her husband, two daughters, and a cockatiel.

Laura can be contacted at laura@newswhistle.com.

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IMAGE CREDITS

Lead-In Photo by Florida-Guidebook on Unsplash;  All Other Images Courtesy Of Laura LaVelle

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