Monday, February 10 Through Wednesday, February 12, 2020
The Florida Keys in general and Key West in particular embodies the perfect habitat for northerners escaping winter cold. A good place to turn toward the sun and feel its warming rays. It is such a good place to feel summer breezes and bone warming sunshine that it is overrun by visitors in the winter months.
Historically, according to Key West Travel Guide statistics, February and March are peak months in terms of hotel room occupancy and pricing. December is busier and more expensive than January. The cheapest and lowest occupancy month is September, which makes sense when you think about hurricane season being September and October.
Starting at Homestead, a town on the mainland, US-1 runs south along Everglades National Park for 30 miles to Key Largo, the first Key. Key West is 100 plus miles from From Key Largo. 100 plus miles of heavy unpleasant frustrated traffic. Having done the drive twice, once on the way in and once on the way out, finding public transportation alternatives seems prudent.
Visitors don’t need to drive to Key West. Delta, American and United airlines fly there. Tour bus operators offer low cost transportation from Miami to Key West. The Key West Express, a high-speed catamaran ferry, takes passengers from Fort Meyers Beach and Marco Island to Key West.
While there are a number of local transportation options, getting around Key West can be a chore. Parking is a problem in areas visited by tourists. The number of people driving around looking for parking greatly outnumber the available spaces.
There are taxis but they don’t appear to be as plentiful as they are in other cities. Uber and Lyft are also available. Be aware that transportation availability will vary by time of day. For example, an hour or two before sunset, when people start gathering around Mallory Square and Sunset Pier to watch the sun set, there is such a crush of people coming and going that traffic comes to a virtual standstill. Then after sunset, visitors need to get back to their hotels. It is a mess.
The Old Town Trolley Tours and Conch Tour Trains sounded like a good deal. Hotel concierges sell day passes. There was even a trolley tour stop at the Fairfield Inn. Tours ran every 15 to 20 minutes from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Hop on, hop off service. The first bus in the morning was completely full. The driver stopped and said he had radioed dispatch and they were sending an empty bus to pick us up. The rescue bus arrived around 9:35, before the next regularly scheduled bus. Then our bus filled up and the driver stopped at each stop and told the people waiting that more buses were on their way. There simply weren’t enough buses to go around.
The Conch Tour Trains had the same problem. Seat demand was significantly higher than supply.
Stop #11 is the nearest stop for the Southernmost Point in the USA.
The morning line to get a picture at the Southernmost Point in the USA was unbelievably long. After not getting a picture here, the group walked down to Hemingway Home. It was crowded as well.
After waiting for an available trolley bus for over a half hour, the group decided to give up on the trolley and just walk around until a suitable restaurant was found.
A number of good restaurants are located on and around Duval Street. For folks patient enough to wait for another overcrowded bus, catching the Duval Loop Bus might be a good option. These buses go 14 blocks up and down Whitehead and Simonton Streets, circling Duval. The loop is actually a bit bigger and also circles Eaton Street.
On Duval Street, there was a Pinchers restaurant, part of a Florida seafood chain. The main dining room was on the second floor and included seating on a balcony high above Duval Street noise. Food was good. Prices moderate. Atmosphere and service excellent.
After lunch at Pincher’s, the group split up. With the afternoon heating, it made sense to get back to the hotel to freshen up before going out to see the sunset.
Again, it was a struggle to find seating on a Trolley headed back to the hotel. Because seats were not available on the shortest route back to the hotel, the Mallory Square stop (#1) became the best option.
The Fairfield Inn, at 2400 North Roosevelt Boulevard, offers shuttle service. After making reservations for the 5:00 PM shuttle, it was time for a nap.
Even with shuttle reservations, it was a struggle to get a seat in one of the two vans. A number of people felt the need to push, shove and cut into line.
The hotel says the shuttle drops off and picks up from Divers Direct which is misleading. The shuttle drops off and picks up at Ana’s Cafe as shown in the above picture. This is’t a problem when there is plenty of available seating on the shuttle. Shuttle passengers not standing where the van doors are open may not be able to get a seat on the shuttle during busy times. The dive shop is over 100 feet away. Only two of the six in the party made it onto the first shuttle for the return trip. The rest had to wait for the next shuttle and needed to aggressively defend their place in line when the next shuttle arrived.
Our group of six wanted to eat dinner at Sunset Pier. If watching the sun set while eating dinner is a thing, then this would be the place. Unfortunately, every single table was occupied.
Plan B – checkout Mallory Square and eat dinner later. Plan B turned out to be a better choice given the Mallory Square goings on.
Walking the breakwater in front of Ocean Key Resort toward Mallory Square is quite a squeeze-down. At sunset, the reward is all about the people watching and the view.
The Mallory Square sunset show is over the top. A number of performers, most obviously professional and serious about their art, perform an eclectic mix of music, vaudeville and circus acts. Performers mark out their performance space on the square. Crowds encircle the better performers. Performers figuratively pass the hat, asking that the audience voluntarily give them money to match the joy received. These are the best street performers ever.
The man above running toward the woman leaned over the bike and the other man holding the hoop, will, in two steps leap over the woman, through the hoop and land on his feet in front of the bicycle.
On his last step before springing through the hoop, the above performer didn’t look like he would be able to launch his body through the hoop. He looked like he would impale himself on that poor woman’s back. Surprise! He didn’t even touch the sides of the hoop.
It was breathtaking. Perfectly executed after building up the audience’s anticipation, mixing in good humor and asking for remuneration on success. I gave him money.
In another act, a man balances himself on a board that rolls on a large sewer drainpipe. Back and forth he rolls. Where he stops, nobody knows. This performer also mixes humor into his act as he builds audience anticipation. As the act moves closer and closer to its conclusion, the man keeps adding more items between himself and the sewer pipe. The rolling back and forth becomes more precarious, his footing less firm. The tricky points, where he is most likely to fall, occur when he adds items. The audience sucks their breath in. He wavers but never falls. Another excellent performance worth seeing.
Another man plays the guitar and sings. Not as flashy as some of the other performers but a good sunset concert nonetheless.
After the sun goes down, the group heads back to Sunset Pier for dinner. The warm gentle sea breeze makes dinner all the more pleasant. The food and service were good. The prices were moderate.
Two nights and one full day are not enough time in Key West. There are so many things to do. Plus, there are multiple organizations helping people find their thing. Key West Things to Do and Key West Vacation Planning seem particularly easy to navigate. Getting the whole gang to agree on individual activities might be hard to do given the breadth of choices available. There is literally something for everyone.
We will come here again. However, we will do things differently. For us, flying will be our best option. The hotels nearest Mallory Square are much more expensive than the Fairfield Inn but they offer the benefit of being where all the action and attractions are. We wouldn’t even need to rent a car. January is probably the best winter month to visit Key West. September is the least crowded and least expensive. We would need a week to see half of what we would want to see.
Hope to see you on the road ahead!