If I learned anything from last week’s visit to the Florida Keys, it’s that four nights in two locations is not nearly enough time to settle in and feel the island vibe. I couldn’t remember a whole lot from past visits – once on a family vacation when I was about 9 and again for SeaCamp when I was 12 – but I knew that I wanted to revisit as an adult to see what this island paradise in my own backyard had to offer.
Now that I’ve been back as a grown-up, don’t be surprised if you see me jaunting down there all the time since for the moment, I’m Florida based. It’s similar in climate to my beloved Bahamas, but a bit easier to get to and there’s no passport required.
Getting to Key West
I am shocked at how painless the drive to Key West was. From Jacksonville, it took about 5 hours to reach Miami in trusty Sheila the Shark (her first big road trip!) and that was with a couple of stops for gas, food and torrential rain along the way. (Pandora has a lot to do with making a long drive more manageable!)
Then it took about 3 hours (and a change to reggae on Pandora, naturally) to dilly-dally the 120 miles to Key West on U.S. 1, the Overseas Highway. (And that included a stop at Kmart in Marathon because they have a dedicated fishing center – wow!) It’s this portion of the drive that really solidifies the fact that you’re in a whole new world. Yes, it’s still the US, but it feels distinctively different. The air is notably salty, there are enormous iguanas lounging along the highway, the speed limit is much slower and there are marinas, fishing shacks and Hemingway references everywhere you look.
I remember driving to the Keys as a kid and it seemed like it took ages, so it was a really nice little surprise to leave at 7 a.m. and arrive in Key West in time to grab a mojito, wander the historic streets, eat sushi for dinner and see the sunset in Mallory Square. You can also fly into Key West directly from DCA, LGA, CLT, ATL and MSY, or you can dip into major gateways Miami (MIA) or Ft. Lauderdale (FLL) and then rent a car or take a shuttle bus.
Where to Stay in Key West
Key West is only 4×2 miles across, so no matter where you stay on the island, you’re pretty close to everything you want to do. Parrot Key Resort lured me in with pictures of stark white picket fences, bright blue Adirondack chairs on peaceful balconies and secluded swimming pools surrounded by greenery and art installations.
I was surprised at the extremely reasonable rates (starting at $119/night!). My suite was far bigger than my apartment back home, with two bedrooms, a living room, kitchenette, two bathrooms and two balconies spanning two floors. I easily could’ve brought along another couple of friends and comfortably fit everyone. Next time, I’ll have the whole crew in a huge 3-bedroom suite. It’s an ideal spot for a family or group to spread out and get cozy.
While there’s not really a beach per se, there’s plenty of sandy lounging real estate, four saltwater swimming pools and like I said, easy access to the rest of the island where you might find a place to dip in the ocean/gulf. Though not in the dead center of the action near Mallory Square, Parrot Key Resort is only about a 10 minute drive all major attractions and there was never any trouble finding parking when I did head downtown. Though I was barely in the room, it should be noted that WiFi is included, yay!
Downsides are few in this sparkling boutique. Unfortunately the hair dryers are wall-attached, so gals with thick hair, bring your own dryer or better yet, stuff it. Wear a hat. The humidity all-but-demands it anyhow. There’s also some hellacious road construction taking place on that side of the island, but nothing a few extra minutes can’t solve. It’s island time anyhow, so no one’s in any big rush.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of Nearly Caribbean: 48 Hours in Key West
Thanks to Parrot Key Resort for hosting me. All opinions are my own.