Thursday, April 12, 2007

OT: KEY WEST ON THE BRAIN


No trip to the Keys is complete without driving through them. We fly into Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International airport on Southwest Airlines (usually we get fares around $150 roundtrip) and rent a convertible (we have found that Dollar Rent A Car costs the fewest, well?dollars). We then head down to South Beach, sometimes for a night or two and sometimes just for lunch. Then it's off to the Keys. Driving Directions from Ft. Lauderdale to Key West


At first, the drive doesn't seem like any big deal after you go over the causeway outside of Miami Beach and see all of the beautiful homes and emerald waters...before long you are on the Florida Turnpike. About 35-40 minutes into your drive you will hit Florida City. That's where what we call, "the tunnel" begins as you approach Key Largo.


Soon you'll notice water to both sides of your convertible....at first it's a bit swamp like then gradually, you begin to see more of the ocean bays to your left and the Gulf to your right. The drive just continues to get more beautiful along the way....try and drive during the day...it is well worth it.


One of our favorite little stops is Papa Joe's Restaurant which is in Islamorada. The peeps are mostly local and very friendly. Great place for a sunset but you may want to push before it sets....there will be plenty of that in Key West.Islamorada is very laid back and if fishing is your thing, Islamorada is for you. Marathon Key is great...also laid back and they have these cool little house boats that you can rent that are unique and well worth it. Faro Blanco Marine Resort, Marathon Key, FloridaGet to the 7 mile bridge during daylight hours....Words do not do the drive justice. But the 3 1/2 hours from Miami are well worth it, especially if equipped with a little cooler (stop at Tom Thumb's and get a cheap styrofoam cooler), great tunes and the wind through your hair. A great place to stop for a cool dip is Bahia Honda State Park....it's beautiful...


Once in Key West, it's best to stay near Duval. Now there are certain places that are very nice down near Mallory Square and there are many bed and breakfasts that are very nice -- but very expensive. If you are going to do Key West right, you won't be in your room much at all. So get a place that is nice, is clean and convenient. We've discovered something that fits the bill on all counts -- Speakeasy Inn. Ask for Mark the inn's manager and let him know that Tony Lombardi recommended his inn. He'll then charge you double the rate. Mark will remember me as the guy who did the radio show from his front porch.The Speakeasy Inn is located at the less hectic end of Duval but convenient to everything! You can get a king bed, TV, AC, big bathroom with a huge shower, tastefully decorated and clean for less than $90/night IN SEASON...

To get a visual of some of the things in store for you, click on this
SNEAK PREVIEW


Some must do's in Key West and places to party/eat/check out: First and foremost....drop off your convertible at the Key West Airport and rent bikes. Get those cheap old ones....we usually pay about $6 per day per bike and rent the bikes from a place on Truman Ave just off Duval. Not only are bikes cheaper....they are less expensive and way more convenient. You don't have to worry about drinking and driving --parking...there's really no contest...and you get to see more of the island that way as well....


Things to do.....


1. Do a sunset/snorkel cruise.....well worth it! Try either Sunny Days or Sebago


2. If you like jet skis, there's a place next to the Walgreens on Roosevelt Blvd next to the Hampton Inn....rent them there. A similar tour is described here The Ultimate Jet Ski Tour (Key West, United States of America) Adventure Tour. We went on a tour around the island that lasted nearly 2 hours and we paid $90 per ski. Other places will charge $65/half hour and restrict you to a certain area


3. The Hemingway house tour on Whitehead is worthy and I'm not much on those tours...Hemingway was an interesting guy to say the least. He was a big fan of the Original Sloppy Joe?s which is now Captain Tony's. This is a nice thing to do if it's overcast or if you want to get out of the sun for a bit. HEMINGWAY HOME & MUSEUM


4. Sunsets at Mallory Square are fun...lots of Vaudeville-like acts there.... 5. Once when we took the kids we did a tour of the dolphin playground....they swim up next to the boat...that was very cool... For those that think Key West isn't for kids, I'm here to tell you that it can be if you want it to be.


Places to go to drink and be merry....


1. Irish Kevin's Bar....is a riot...acoustic guitar players that mix in some off color humor...and sing-a-longs...very fun place


2. Schooner Wharf Bar - Key "A Last Little Piece of Old Key West"...during the day....go and get a grouper sandwich...it rocks and the entertainment is usually Michael McCloud....he's mellow which is great in the sunshine while having a cocktail...he's also very funny....in an extremely dry sort of way.


3. SLOPPY JOE'S BAR.....a Key West institution that might put you in an institution of your own. And then of course there's the "Original" Sloppy Joe's, now known as Captain Tony's Saloon.


4. Other places on Duval we've enjoyed: , Hog's Breath Saloon, Bare Bottoms, Flying Monkeys, The Bull.... also check out The GREEN PARROT BAR....a locals' favorite on Whitehead Ave.


5. Have breakfast at the Banana Cafe. It's on Duval about 1 block from the Speakeasy Inn.


6. If you want to do a nice dinner, try Kellys Caribbean Bar and Grill (Kelly McGillis from Top Gun fame), Antonia's...nice Italian restaurant or Pepe's Cafe


7. For raw bar....check out Turtle Kraals down near Schooner's.....ask for Greg...he's from Baltimore and is a great bartender...he'll remember us....in fact, last time we saw him, he said "I heard you were coming down." When I asked how he heard, he said he read it on Ravens24x7....


Side note.....Margaritaville looks like it could be in any shopping mall....it's a real disappointment but you will undoubtedly check it out and then you will tell everyone else exactly what I'm telling you now.... Beaches..... Key West doesn't have a lot of great beaches....in fact they have no "great" beaches. You can always crash the small ones at the hotels near Mallory Square...no one really cares in Key West.....then there's Higgs Beach....or Ft. Zachary Taylor beach. ZT is a bit better but Higgs has a little restaurant nearby with friendly bartenders to "hydrate" your system....there's also a pool at the Southernmost Hotel/Inn near the end of Duval. It's open to the public for a daily fee of $5 or $6 and they have a bar there as well....


Going home....


We've always driven back as well but we will likely alter that by taking a puddle jumper back to Ft. Lauderdale.....last year, we missed our flight due to an accident on the 7 mile bridge. And early last year (we went twice in 2004) we really had to rush to get back on time. It's so hard to leave that we waited to the last possible minute. You might also consider South Beach for a couple of days after Key West. It takes the pressure off your flight schedule.Can you tell I like it there? I know you will too. We are probably going back in August or September. People ask why in the summer, it's so hot. But we say, it's hot here so what's the difference? Besides, it's more economical and less crowded then....Share your Florida Keys experiences with us and we?ll post them here. But some of what happens in the Keys, should stay in the Keys.


THOUGHTS FROM OTHER LOVERS OF THE KEYS

"We found a great place for breakfast this year. It's in Islamorada -
http://www.bobsbunz.com/ - click on the link on the left that says Islamorada Restaurant and Bakery. They had the best food ever!We also eat dinner at Hawk's Cay Resort in Marathon every year - Watersedge Restaurant - fine dining but very casual." ~ Dolores Pucher, Baltimore, MD

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Hello Tony,

I've read 24x7 for a while, my compliments for a terrific and informative Ravens website. I happened to stumble upon the link to your Key West suggestions just in time for our trip to Florida . I printed off your list and took it with us. We actually stayed in South Beach and drove down to Key West for a couple of days 6/6-7. The Speak Easy was full, however they recommended their sister hotel Casa 325 on Duval Street; very nice place and they have a pool - $140.00 per night. The location is close to "downtown" yet surprisingly quiet due to the location sitting off and behind other buildings on Duval Street - very clean and well maintained, my wife was pleased with the facility.

Other suggestions for consideration for your informational link and or next trip:

-We had to have lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe (outdoors of course)

-Take the cheesy train tour ride around town (very informative and it will orient you to the town)

-Dinner at the Blue Heaven restaurant (very different - a memorable dinner)

-You have to stop in to have a margarita at the Margaritaville bar (ask for Sherry the bartender)

-Breakfast at Camille's located at Simonton & Catherine Streets (outstanding breakfast food)

-Lunch at Jack Flat's Cafe/Bar on Duval Street - about 495 Duval ??? (excellent food at reasonable prices - great friendly service)

and you were right...

-You must experience the sunset festival in Mallory Square (go early to reserve a seat at dock side or you will be standing). The street vendors, artists and vaudeville type acts are very entertaining. The sunset "main attraction" is incredible...

-At least one morning you have to get up early to watch the sun rise over the Atlantic ... a unique experience

Thanks for the tips...

I also listen to the radio show whenever my schedule permits. Good Luck with the show!

All the best...

Jack Moore

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Tony,

We have never met but I look at your website on a weekly basis to get updates on Ravens stuff and see what people are talking about. Then today I sign on and found your blog on Key West . Sounds like you have been there a lot. I have a surprise for you. I belong to an elite group of firefighters who crash Key West every year. This year will be our 10th anniversary of crashing Key West . We take anywhere between 80 to 100 people on our trip and it is a blast. We are down there for about 8 days and it is a hoot. We have been going down so long that we now have sponsors who get a shout out on our website in trade for their donations. We also march in the annual Conch Republic Parade host by the Vice General of the Conch Republic Peter Anderson. If you mention us he will most definitely set you up with a passport by mentioning our group.

If you have people who frequent Key West then you must at some point hook up with us as we have Key West to a science. We even have the fire department donate fire pumps for the Bloody Battle that we participate in every year. If you are not familiar this is where the Conch republic re-enacts the battle that took place for the succession of Key West from the U.S.A. Interesting reading.

Our group is known as The Castaway Travel Group and we are a travel group that has only managed to travel to Key West (talk about a state of mind). We fell in love with Key West and they did with us. We walk around Key West with tags on and day time prices on drinks and free cover to all the popular places. You need to check out our website
http://www.castawaytravelcrew.com/ and I am definitely going to shout out your website to them.

Your article sparked interest because a buddy and I are doing the exact thing you talked about and making the drive from Ft. Lauderdale . I am hopeful that your group and ours could possibly merge and really become and force in Key West ....

LONG LIVE THE CONCH REPUBLIC !!!!! GO RAVENS!!!!

Keep up the good work on your website?

Wasted away,

AL Brown
Castaway Travel Group
Ravens Fan

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Tony,

The wife and I just got back from Key West on Saturday. I wanted to say "thanks," we took your ideas to heart and drove down from South Beach . Here are some recommendations I have, if you want to post them on your site:

1. I can't recommend these two restaurants enough: Blue Heaven and Meteor Steakhouse. Blue Heaven is laid back, and has incredible breakfast and dinner selections. It's also off the beaten path a couple blocks off of Duval Street. The Meteor Steakhouse is even more laid back, and has amazing barbecue - they have an amazing "green beans" appetizer that you have to eat and see to believe.

2. We took a puddle jumper on Continental back to Fort Lauderdale to catch our flight home. I can't recommend that enough - it's $90 each for a 50 minute flight, but you fly over the Everglades and see the Keys as well. In addition, you avoid any traffic issues and stress on your way back to catching your flight.

3. Go to Tripadvisor.com for some Bed & Breakfast recommendations. We ended up staying at The Nassau House (www.nassauhouse.com). The owners were very nice, with an impressive breakfast spread each morning that they cooked themselves. It was a little far from Duval Street - 6 blocks up Fleming Street - but we rented a couple of bikes to make it a little easier. Next time we'll stay a little closer.

Thanks,

Darren Weagly

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"I too just got back from Key West and had a great time. I went to a restaurant for breakfast called Blue Heaven-- they had had the best pancakes and coffee and when leaving noticed the bricks (see attached). Baltimore is well represented.


We got to the Keys from Ft Myers on a two hour high speed boat ride. Ft Myers and the surrounding areas are a nice alternative to the East coast of Florida." ~ Bruce, Ellicott City

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Hey Tony,

Your article on the Keys inspired me! Heading down May 6-13. Flying into Miami , renting a Jeep Wrangler and doing the drive thing just like you suggested. Hope to hit some of your suggested places!

Jen Siler

Jen's Follow up


Hey Tony,

Had a great time in the Keys! Would definitely stay at the Speakeasy again, that place rocks! We recommended it to friends already who want to go to Key West in December.

Thanks for the recommendation!

Jen


*****


I know this is a lengthy blog entry, but I'm feeling a vacation and if you are, Key West isn't a destination, it's a state of mind -- one that you'll want to experience again and again. If you have any Key West experiences, bring it on!

6 comments :

Anonymous said...

Tony
Next time driving down, take a left in Key Largo @ Card Sound Road and stop by Alabama Jack's. Great atmosphere and the best conch fritters anywhere. You might even get to feed a manatee if you're lucky.

Tony Lombardi said...

I'll have to give that a shot. I'm heading down twice during the NFL's dead zone (June 15 - July 25ish). If anyone is going to be there then, shoot me a note...Corona at Schooner's Wharf Bar on a sunny afternoon on me. I take mine with a lemon!

My dates there are June 21-27 and July 11-17....

Harryos29 said...

Tony
How refreshing to read all the experiences of Ravens fans who visited KEY West. It was great to take a mental trip there, on a very dreary spring day in BAWL_MER HUN!
This may be a first for Key West, but my son and his Scout Troup will be in the KEYS in JUNE. They have had this trip planned for some time. I'll turn him onto this site. He lives in Bear Delaware just a short 90 Miles from our home in Sykesville. I'm sure the boy scouts will enjoy the Keys.
Thanks again,
Harry O' (Gand pap)

Anonymous said...

Hi, sending this to you from Sunny Spain!!! We will be in Forida in June and plan to travel to the Keys 29th June-July6th, any advice would be welcome, we are 6 people aged 42-55 and wana spend some time in Key West and then maybe a few days a bit higher up the keys,! We need Villas (4 day and 3 days split) min 4 bed and 4 baths, pool, hot tub and the 4 days we spend outside of key west maybe with dockage as we wana rent a small boat, many thanks and really looking forward to our trip,Paul

Tony Lombardi said...

Paul,

there are a number of websites that you can google to find what you are looking for...the link above for Faro Blanco should solve part of your need...they have slips and boat houses there in Marathon, about 1 hour north of Key West. Islamorada has more options another 20-30 minutes north of that.

I have a friend very familiar with this looking into it. Email me if you'd like at tl@profootball24x7.com.

Anonymous said...

You also have to check out this place in Islamorada! The best food for a great price, and what a great atmosphere!