Travel, United States

My Guide to a Key West Escape

When the snow piles in Virginia started to take the shape of the Blue Ridge Mountain range, my boyfriend and I decided that an escape to warmer temperatures would be a good idea.  In a quick, swift decision, we thought Key West would suffice – can’t get any further south in the United States, to say the least.

It started out with the idea of flying into Ft. Lauderdale, renting an open top Jeep and cruising down to Key West, while soaking in the sun’s warm rays.  I even went out and got the perfect hat to wear.  Once in Key West, we were going to stop at a bed and breakfast and hope for a vacancy.  However, as the weeks went by before the vacation, it began to occur to us that this was not only the beginning of spring break, but also prime time for the cruise ships to be coming into port.  And, weather.com did not show a promising forecast – it went from the upper 60s, to the lower 60s and then (gasp) to the 50s.  At least it was to be nothing but sunshine the whole time!

Instead, we decided to make reservations.  Doing a lot of research and talking to many “frequented visitors” of the island, the south side of the island by the Southernmost Point happened to be the most private.  And, it wasn’t any more or less expensive than anywhere else – it happened to be “peak season”.  As a result, we decided to stay at Reach Resort.  We also decided that the open top Jeep would probably not be utilized, as it was going to be too cold to drive down there (or even back) with no doors or roof so we rented a mid-size SUV so I could at least take good pictures without hanging  halfway out the window to get a shot.

When the day came, we were completely excited to escape to a new environment – this included traveling on a new airline.  Being an avid (frequent) flyer, traveling on a new airline can be both exhilarating and downright worrisome.  Since we knew nothing about Spirit Air (and only chose them because they had the right departure time), we were eager to see how good/bad our experience would be.  From the time we stepped foot onto the plane, to the time we exited it, all we did was crack jokes about traveling on a “subway in the sky”.  From gum on the seats, to wallpapered advertisements, to $3 bottles of water and $8 cocktails, we were thankful to have remembered to have a celebratory drink before taking off.

Once in Ft. Lauderdale, we were scratching our heads, as to whether or not we made a hotel reservation there (for the night) and if so, which one did we choose.  Sometimes, bad experiences are more than made up for when you least suspect it – we decided to go ahead and stay at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel for the night and ended up in a king suite with balcony, overlooking the pool.  Being that we had yet to eat, we wandered outside of the hotel into the little downtown square area to see what our options were.  Considering the winds were high and it felt to be about 35 degrees, we chose the first available modern/unique option available (insert humor if you know what I’m talking about) and therefore, decided to seek refuge in Tatu

From the moment you walk into the restaurant, you feel a chill, yet upscale, fashionable vibe – something you expect from a Hard Rock Hotel.  (In fact, I’d venture to say the entire property rivals the Hard Rock in Las Vegas, by far.)  This definitely does not exclude Tatu’s menu, as it offers amazing Asian dishes with Cantonese, Mandarin, Szechwan, Vietnamese and Thai influences.  We ordered a variety of appetizers (to save room for dessert), as well as two of their signature asian pear drinks – the martini and the mojito, all of which was amazing.  But, the value add to this experience (which is rare to find) was the complimentary cotton candy you get, as well as the temporary tattoos that come with your bill.

Early the next morning, we were raring to go.  Stepping onto our balcony one final time, we decided that admiring the pool, from inside of the sliding glass door, was a better option – it was still freezing out (bummer).  So we get into our SUV, start up the GPS and realize that we had no way to hook up the iPod so we went “old school” and listened to the radio.  (Anyone who knows me, knows I LOATHE the radio.)  No matter, there will be plenty of sites to take in so effectively, it becomes background noise. 🙂

About 20 minutes in, I realized we might not be going the way we want.  And of course, because I’m the navigator (my boyfriend’s first mistake when assigning tasks), I blame this error on my GPS not knowing exactly where we are.  It led me to look at the map, then the GPS, then back to the map, then back to the GPS and shout out, “The GPS has us going the wrong way!!!!”  At this point, we decided to just let it guide us and sure enough, it knew what was best for us – we landed at Cardsound Road

For those that have driven down to Key West and know what I am talking about, know that it is THE OPTIMAL way to go!  You drive through the Everglades in Key Largo with absolutely NO TRAFFIC.  We were just warned not to get out of the car (like stopping to take pictures) or else we could have been an alligator’s meal. 🙂  There were lots of marshes, hidden beaches, trees and government-restricted areas.  You’re on it for several miles and when you come to the end (right before the toll), there is a biker bar called Alabama Jacks – kind of like a celebratory point before hitting the first bridge to the rest of the keys.  Since it was 8:30am, it wasn’t open (and if it was, it would still seem wrong to drink that early).

Once past the toll, it opens to the first bridge, Caribbean water and plenty of sunshine.  You go from a piqued sense of curiosity to elation in just a matter of a few feet of road.  You’re surrounded by what you were expecting: paradise.  It’s the perfect drive in any sort of vehicle – including a Harley (which there were many of), as it didn’t matter which way you looked, you were pleased with the view.  In total, the majestic viewing took about 3 1/2 hours with traffic.  Many pictures were taken, many music-playing radio stations were sought and many windows/temperature controls were up and down.  And, when the Key West sign was within sight, many personal moments of elation were had.

When we reached the Reach Resort, we were instantly greeted by Caribbean waters (we were, after all, at THE southernmost point in the U.S.), friendly staff and an overwhelming sense of calm.  The resort looked more like an upscale timeshare than it did a hotel.  In addition, hearing we were upgraded to a partial ocean view suite just made us realize this vacation was meant to be. 

Since the room wasn’t ready, we ventured out to find the best Cuban restaurant on the island.  There is a lot of Cuban food here but the inhabitants will all agree that El Siboney on Catherine St.  is by far the best.  Sure enough, everything from the roasted chicken to the sangria was amazing – and filling ( as we discovered on our walk back to the hotel).  By the time we were back at our resort, the room was ready and we happily marched up there.

One of my favorite parts about hotel stays is the very first time you put your key card into the door and open to what is on the other side.  I’ve stayed in many beautiful places in my life and I never tire of the very first time I see my room.  We were greeted by a lot of sunshine, a view of the human chessboard, beach, the pool and the garden.  We were also greeted by a mini wetbar and a room that felt a lot like home – modern, bright, comfortable and luxe. 

Still, there was island to explore and soon, we were off to see what our surroundings would be over the next few days.  We explored the resort a bit more, walking down the long resort pier to the gazebo, down the beach and around the grounds.  We walked down to the Southermost Point buoy (marker), only to see a line of about 30 people waiting to take their picture in front of it.  We walked down Duval and started our trek in search new shoes (my feet were not happy with my choice of new flip flop for my first day of walking around), as well as a small handbag so I wasn’t carrying my over-sized beach bag everywhere.  Now, Key West is a civilized place and as a result, I ended up at both the Coach outlet (they were having 70%-90% off sales) and Nine West (buy one get one free).  I found myself walking away with two Coach wristlets (a patent leather yellow one and a copper leather one) and a Coach ring, as well as two pair of beautiful sandals.  Had my boyfriend let me wander Duval by myself, I probably would have ended up doing a lot more damage. 🙂

After about a mile and a half of walking (and me shopping), we decided that the best thing to do on our first night back was eat dinner at the restaurant at our resort: Strip House and call it a night.  Now, given that this is not “that type” of blog, I didn’t even bother to get pictures of the inside of this restaurant.  I assumed it meant steaks – instead, it was pictures of topless burlesque women from the 30s and 40s – they were tastefully done in black and white and hung on red velvet walls.  At closer glance, those red velvet walls were wallpaper with red velvet outlines of women – same with the matching napkins (which I did snap a picture of).  It was a beautiful restaurant with great views of the beach, an expansive outdoor veranda and a pool table that guests could come up and freely use.  It just gave the feel of  a swanky, old-style speak easy – a feeling they perfected to a tee.

When dinner was over, we walked the grounds, commented on how we were going to play human chess one night, but happy at our choice of locations and excited to see what else this island had to offer.

Stay tuned for part 2: The Devo “deathmarch”

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