I was thrilled at the timing when my friend, Katie, asked me if I’d like to crash her solo vacay to Key West. After an insanely wet month in Houston, TX I had been craving adventure and sunshine . An island trip sounded like absolute HEAVEN.
To be honest, I’d never really thought about visiting Key West before. I’ve been to Florida plenty of times but have only stayed north of Tampa and for whatever reason, Florida just didn’t capture me. Key West seemed different though, and I wanted to find out if my gut feeling was right. Here’s what I got into during my 3 day trip to the southernmost land of the USA.
Fury’s Island Adventure tour was pretty high up there on my favorite activities of the trip. I opted for the morning session so me and about 10 other people boarded the boat around 9am. We were introduced to our fun-loving, incredibly tanned guides where I learned that two of which were from Ft. Worth, Texas! It would turn out that 100% of our tour guides, waiters, and hotel staff were not from Key West, but instead from quite literally all over the world. Who knew Key West was so international?
We were given the obligatory safety talk and told what to expect during our cruise: First we’d be heading to an area for about 30 minutes of snorkeling. Afterwards we’d go to an island with a remote natural sandbar where we’d have ample time to relax, explore, kayak, paddleboard and take in the gorgeous turquoise waters. Meanwhile, Houston was continuing to get pounded with rain. Yep, I’d made the right decision.
On our way out to the snorkel location our laid-back guides set up a light breakfast platter; think pastries, fresh fruit, granola and orange juice. Soon we were handed masks, snorkels, life jackets and fins and jumped into (or climbed down a ladder – user preference) the warm shallow water. It was only about 12 feet deep and the clarity was pretty decent that day. This was actually my FIRST time snorkeling in clear water (at least that I can remember). It was fascinating. While the coral off the Florida Keys isn’t the bright vibrant colors that come to mind when thinking of diving a reef, it’s still fun to explore. We were guided over to an area with spiny lobster living in old cinder blocks. Apparently a small nurse shark lives under a long-forgotten bath tub but I wasn’t brave enough to dive down and see for myself.
After our snorkel sesh we hopped back on the boat for the quick ride over to the natural sandbar and island. It was shallow enough to walk for several hundred feet on the sandbar, with fantasticly azul waters all around. We curiously searched for marine life (saw a small nurse shark nearby!), lounged in the beautiful white sand and eventually geared up for a kayak tour near the island.
Our guides were impressively knowledgable about everything Key West. We learned all about the history of the island, the marine life and the ecosystem during the tour. We nestled in some Mangrove trees and spotted a few crabs as we escaped the beating sun for some much-needed fleeting moments. Once we finished kayaking, we were left to do as we please – give stand-up paddleboarding a go, head back to the boat for some lunch, drink to your hearts content in the sand, whichever suits your mood. I’m a total SUP fanatic so I decided to brave the current and paddle for a bit before eventually giving up and walking the board back to the group. I welcomed the extra workout before stuffing my face.
We were served a surprisingly delicious platter for lunch. When I think of group boat tour lunches, I don’t exactly expect a gourmet meal, but Fury did deliver a good option regardless. Fresh fruit, sandwich meat, and homemade delicious baked + flash fried chicken. Just what you want to eat while in a swim suit! But really, it was actually very good.
Cookies and champagne with crisp, cool watermelon rounded out our feast as we cruised back to land. They have fresh water shower nozzle available, so I took a quick refreshing rinse before parting ways from an ultra-chill morning.
Final Thoughts: One thing I really loved about this tour was the size of the group. There were only about 12 of us total and it was the perfect amount to get to know everyone a bit. I especially enjoyed talking to the tour guides and extracting their wealth of knowledge about the nature and lifestyle of the Keys. The laid-back atmosphere was the perfect way to detox island-style. I would absolutely book the Island Adventure again!
Price: $80.96 if you book online; $89.95 if you book on-site
Snorkel and Sunset Cruise
There are a number of sunset cruises offered on the Keys and we decided to try Sebago’s Snorkel/Sunset combo. Katie and I had our sights set on a classy evening sipping champagne while laying aboard the catamaran as the sun went down. It didn’t exactly turn out the way we imagined. As soon as we stepped on board it seemed a little bit like organized chaos. Kids running around, people either trying to find seats or trying to find out why they weren’t allowed to drink yet. Turns out it’s not safe to drink and snorkel so the booze would have to wait until after that part of the adventure. Okay, that makes sense.
Eventually we were all settled and given an introduction from our crew who also originated from outside Florida. I love the fact that so many expats live here who’ve decided to ditch the norm and experience island life instead. These are my kind of people.
It was a brutally hot 45 minute ride out to the reef, which along the way we learned is actually dying. Apparently there are only about 30 years left of life before it completely disintegrates, which is a huge bummer. As I mentioned earlier, the reef and coral were more on the brown side, but I still enjoyed searching for fish, sharks, and watching life play out under da sea. At one point I thought I saw a barracuda which caught me by surprise and I dropped Jimmie’s go-pro (which he graciously allowed me to borrow for this trip) to the ocean floor. Panic ensued before realizing it was only a short 10 foot dive away. Phew, glad I didn’t have to have that uncomfortable conversation!
After we were wiped out from snorkeling, and sufficiently sunburned on our backs we headed back on board the catamaran. Alcohol could now be allowed into the mix so that made for some entertaining albeit slightly annoying people watching. The funny thing is that the boat was obviously family friendly since there were many aboard, but they also played unedited party music so the atmosphere was a bit confusing. I was feeling somewhat uneasy on the way back so I decided to stick with ice-cold water while waiting for the famous Key West sunset.
That’s when our captain pointed out that the cloud line was high and we’d probably be getting a less than ideal show. Oh well, there’s nothing they can do about that. It was still a gorgeous evening and the boat ride back was highly enjoyable, with or without the glamorous sunset.
Final thoughts: While our guides were extremely friendly and we enjoyed each of the activities the tour promoted, we just weren’t feeling this one. It’s probably our fault as we were expecting more of an intimate, classy experience. Next time we’ll book a wine tasting sunset cruise and do our snorkeling separate. Also, it’s necessary to note that there is no food (minus some cookies that didn’t make it to us 🙁 ) served aboard this cruise. We found this a bit odd since it’s from 5-8pm, however with the amount of people on board (probably close to 40) I can imagine the tour would cost quite a bit more to feed everyone. We prepared by snacking right before the cruise and having a late dinner once we returned to the island.
Price: $45 when booked online; $49 when purchased on-site
You may be more up to speed on all things Key West than I, but upon arrival I had assumed every island had naturally beautiful sandy beaches galore with waves crashing ashore. This is why I need to stop assuming. Key West is not known for it’s beaches because the reef that surrounds the island actually creates an early break for waves. This means that the shore doesn’t even receive large waves, thus beaches aren’t able to be formed. For that reason, most of the beaches (if not all) are man-made!
That’s not to say they aren’t beautiful and relaxing though!
Just a short ferry ride departing from the dock behind the Westin, is a private beach on Sunset Key. The beach is owned by the Westin’s sister resort, Sunset Key Guest Cottages, and a beach pass or reservation at the resort’s restaurant is needed to access it.
The small beach is lined with cabanas and palapas for you to sit under, complimentary towel service, and a hammock or two to lounge in. We opted for some chairs under a palapa and enjoyed a couple hours of serenity. About 20 minutes before leaving, a man came up to us asking if we’d like some ice cream. Had he read our minds? Where did this man even come from? UM YES of course we’d like some!
Final Thoughts: A bit on the pricey side, but this was another activity I would definitely repeat when coming back to Key West! It’s pretty rocky where the beach meets the water, so I’d recommend bringing hard-soled water shoes if you plan to go in the water. Definitely eat at the resort’s restaurant, Latitudes, as the food was delicious.
Price: $20 per day (resort guests); $40 per day (non-guests); or a reservation at the resort’s restaurant Latitudes
While I was off on another kayak tour, Katie decided to hit up Smather’s beach to relax and tan her already sun-kissed body.
Final Thoughts: I didn’t get to experience this one for myself, but Katie mentioned that it was one of her favorite parts of the vacation! She enjoyed lounging under a palm tree watching beach-goers participate in a variety of water activities available here.
Price: Free to access; $10 fee for a chair rental + $10 fee for placement under an umbrella
Ever since I first set my feet on a stand up paddleboard (SUP) in none other than Austin, TX a few years ago I have been a SUP fanatic. I absolutely love flowing across the water on a board, challenging my core and balance along the way. I’m sure it’s extremely different from surfing, but I’m convinced that once I finally get my chance at trying that I’ll love it just as much.
So when I found out there there was a stand up paddleboard yoga class offered near Key West I was all in. I’d recently re-kindled my love for yoga too, thanks to Yoga with Adriene’s 30 day yoga challenge, and was eager to combine two of my newfound passions!
Katie and I took a $15 taxi from our B&B to Hurricane Hole where Lazy Dog is located. Once there, we were greeted by several kind women and introduced to Tara who would be our instructor for the day. Since my friend Katie had never paddled before, Tara gave us a quick 10 minute intro lesson. It was a great refresher, and you could tell she was passionate about SUP and knew what she was talking about!
We paddled out past the harbor, under a bridge, and to a calm cove surrounded by mangroves. While we were hoping for shade, it was a bright and sunny day so it turned out to be more like Bikram SUP Yoga. Okay that may be a little bit dramatic.
My body loved the challenge, and it really brought a whole new perspective and awareness being surrounded by water on all sides. Tara was a fun and knowledgable teacher and gave us modifications for more difficult positions, which was much appreciated.
I wish I would have brought my Go Pro to take some cool SUP yoga photos, but I opted to stay in the moment and enjoy the peaceful hours on the water instead. Next time, I promise 🙂
Final Thoughts: I thoroughly enjoyed this fun and challenging practice on the water with Tara. Once we paddled back in, I met the owner Sue who has actually written a book about her life and her journey to find her passion in Key West. I read it on the plane ride home and loved it. She’s extremely inspiring and likable and I respect her immensely for putting herself out there and taking risks to end up where she is today!
Time: 2 hours long (with paddling); various times to participate
Price: $30 per person
Kayak Eco Tour
After SUP yoga, I’d apparently not gotten enough of a workout and decided to try out a kayak backcountry eco tour over at neighboring Geiger Key. Key West Eco Tours offers a free shuttle service for those coming from Key West which is a great move on their part. They picked me up directly behind Lazy Dog and chatted with the instructor and my fellow tour mates on the way to the paddle hut. It turns out, the instructor is from El Salvador, and has been living in Key West for the past 20 years! Is anyone on this island locally grown?
Once at the paddle hut, we went through a quick kayak refresher, given dry-bags for our cameras and phones and set off into the water. This trip focused mainly on kayaking through Key West’s interesting mangrove trees and learning all about the fascinating ecosystem they provide. Our instructor knew every detail about them, along with the marine life, and her passion for it was infectious.
We kayaked across the bay, through mangrove tunnels, and down a winding narrow inlet while enjoying the quiet serenity around us. It was relaxing, and despite the sun blaring down and my stupidity at forgetting a hat and not changing out of my yoga leggings, I had a fantastic time.
Final Thoughts: Again, I loved the intimacy of the group – there were only 4 kayaks total which made it easier to get around and also to hear our instructor. Prepare for a casual laid-back tour and listen to their advice on wearing a hat. Also, don’t wear yoga capris because you may end up with a terrible tan like I did:
Time: 2.5 hours; 9am or 1pm
Price: $65 per person (regardless of double or single kayak)
Mallory Square Sunset Celebration
Mallory Square is host to it’s world famous sunset celebration where everyone is invited to watch the glowing pink and red sun melt into the ocean below. This was definitely a popular spot, with street performers, food vendors and trinket shops lined up along the boardwalk calling for your attention.
Final Thoughts: It can be a little gimmicky, but it was still fun to wander around and watch the gorgeous sky turn dark.
Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory
I wasn’t planning on going to The Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory, but I had a few hours to kill and I remember seeing that it’s the #1 thing to do in Key West according to Trip Advisor. We have a fantastic butterfly center in Houston, so I was curious to see how they compared.
Upon entrance, you’ll step into a room with short movies playing and butterfly facts and stats. Once you’ve learned all that you possibly can about these beautiful insects you can move into the actual conservatory section. It’s smaller than I was expecting, but the flowers and set up was nicely done. You essentially walk down a path, observing the butterflies and small birds along the way. In the center there’s a little pond with koi fish and two flamingos which seemed to be the center of attention at most times. When you’ve had your fill of the excitement you can step through to the next room which houses a few mirrors to make sure you don’t have any hitchhikers on you and off to the obligatory museum shop you go.
Final Thoughts: Overall I was slightly unimpressed – it was very small and there seemed to be a lot of just a few types of butterflies. I really have no idea how this is the top rated attraction on Trip Advisor but I imagine I’m spoiled because of Houston’s own butterfly museum. I do think it would make for a great family activity, as plenty of children seemed to be having a fantastic time, and even for those who have never been to something similar before!
Price: $12 for adults; Ages 4-12 $8.50
Another obligatory “I visited Key West” photo op is definitely the Southernmost Point buoy landmark. If you want a photo of you with the buoy, go early, otherwise be prepared for a significant line. I popped by when it was packed and snuck a photo in between visitors taking selfies.
Final Thoughts: Go early, take your picture, then move on.
Clearly, despite it’s small size, there’s no running out of things to do in Key West! With a flair for drawing an international crowd, and sunsets to soothe your soul this island city is a unique and charming vacation spot. Just be careful, because like so many others, you may end up never leaving!
Have you been to Key West? What were your favorite attractions on this laid-back island?
Shelly & Jimmie
Disclaimer: Many thanks to the Florida Keys Toursim Council for hosting us on our trip. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.
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