My fiancé and I wanted to have a special destination wedding. We felt it was important to start our marriage together in a meaningful place. We both love to travel, and between the two of us, have visited most of the states and about a dozen countries, but neither of us had ever been to Key West.
At first we kind of dismissed it, mostly because all we knew about it was its reputation as a party town. But we decided that the place we chose should be new to both of us, so our first memories of it could be together, so we bought a couple of plane tickets and headed down for a week to see if it would be our tropical island wedding.
It turned out to be far more than that. We immediately fell in love with the beautiful weather, the warmth of the people and the laid back island lifestyle. We understood the reason why so many people we met told us stories of having come down for a week ten years ago. We knew we couldn’t quite do that – we each had responsibilities back home and there was still a wedding to plan – but we decided to do the next best thing.
We still had a destination wedding. We had a beautiful oceanfront ceremony and chose among our favorite new Key West restaurants for our reception. The only thing that made our wedding different than most was that when everything was over, all of our guests went back, and we stayed in our beautiful new island home.
My wife has a business convention every year, and every year she asks me if I want to go with her. The fact that it typically happens in March in cities like Indianapolis and Chicago make me say no pretty quickly, but this year the travel gods were smiling on us. The trip was to Miami and I couldn’t say yes fast enough. I wasn’t too interested in Miami itself, but I was excited to take a few extra days to drive down the Overseas Highway and check out Key West.
My friends said that the total flight from Miami would take less than an hour (and most of that was taxiing), but ever since I heard about that drive, I had always wanted to experience it. I was not disappointed. There is nothing else like being in the middle of a seven mile bridge looking out and seeing nothing but crystal clear blue water and lush green islands for miles. We took some extra time to poke into the little towns along the way, but the closer we got, the quicker we wanted to get there.
Key West was everything we hoped it would be. The legendary sunset was beautiful, the nightlife was fun filled and overwhelming, and the Key West restaurants left us so happily stuffed that it was all we could do to lounge by the pool and order another round of margaritas. We decided that it didn’t matter where next year’s convention was: as soon as it was over, we’d be hopping a flight to Miami and taking that drive again.
I would love to be able to see the world. Unfortunately, my boss doesn’t see that happening anytime soon, and if he fired me so I’d have the time, it would severely limit the money I had. A few years ago, I discovered the next best thing. If I couldn’t see all of the world, then I would go somewhere that a lot of the world has seen: Key West, Florida.
Key West has a recorded history that goes back almost five centuries, meaning that when the United States finally became a country, people had been calling Key West home for 150 years. These people first were the explorers from Europe, followed by fisherman and sailors from New England and the Bahamas, sponge divers from Italy, cigar makers from Cuba, and artists, musicians, writers and chefs from all around the globe.
This influence can be seen on every block, and each time I go back, I try to discover a little more of it. There are walking tours that point out the architecture, museums that celebrate the various influences, brightly colored paintings hanging in the galleries, and so many Key West restaurants with menus that make you think you’ve visited a hundred different places.
Before I go, I decide what I want to explore when I get there, and by the time I’m done, I have several new ideas for my next trip. At the rate I’m going, I’m going to have to quit my job just so I have time to get it all done in my lifetime.
I wanted to do something special for the family vacation this year. Kids being kids, it can be hard to find something for everyone. One unbreakable rule is that no matter where we go, there has to be at least a pool and preferably a beach as well, so if someone is just too sullen to have fun with the rest of us, they can hang out there with one parent while the other plays tour guide. Kids also being kids, they thought there was nothing we could do to surprise them, so we decided to go somewhere they had never heard of before: Key West, Florida.
They tried hard to play it cool, but that vanished when we were checking into the hotel and a chicken ran right in front of us. They were excited and told the manager, who shocked them even more when he told them the chicken’s name and warned them that he – the rooster, not the manager – would probably be waking us up every morning around five. Sure enough, the next morning he was up before the sun. More surprisingly, the kids were up with him, watching him strut around the courtyard.
Everything we did after that in Key West was one surprise after another. They had never been to a tropical island before and were overwhelmed by all of the plants and flowers. Their picky eating habits disappeared and they tried key lime pie, fresh seafood and even conch fritters. And the only time anyone went to the beach was when we all did, so they could go snorkeling and see if they could find any of the buried treasure that helped make Key West famous.
My husband and I are perfect examples of opposites that attract. Luckily, we’ve always been able to compromise. He teaches art and sculpture at the local college while I commute to the city for my finance job. I own at least two dozen professional outfits and I think he has one suit and maybe two ties. When it came to our wedding, I wanted a traditional church service and he wanted a tropical island celebration. Key West offered us the perfect solution.
We told the local Key West wedding planner we hired what all of our concerns were and she helped us arrange the perfect destination wedding. We found a beautiful church to hold the ceremony at, and she took us to several different Key West restaurants to look at for the reception venue. We got to sample some of the fresh seafood and key lime pie that would be part of the menu, and found a beautiful location with outdoor patios and plenty of room for dancing.
Most of the guests on my side were a bit surprised when they saw the invite for a tropical wedding, knowing as they did my traditional wedding dreams. I’ll admit, I was skeptical at first, too. Much of that was due to how little people know about Key West beyond its reputation as a partying resort town. Everyone thanked us afterwards not only for having such a beautiful wedding, but also for introducing them to a great new vacation destination. Every time someone said that, my husband just gave me a wink. He was too polite to take credit himself, but if not for him, I never would have learned how beautiful Key West is.
My husband and I plan a big trip every five years for our anniversary. We both like to eat and drink, so some of our previous trips have been to California wine country and Paris and the French countryside. This year was the second brutal winter in a row, so I decided that it would be nice if we went somewhere where not only would we love the food, we’d appreciate the weather as well. My husband thought I meant Miami, but I was thinking a little farther south.
Thanks to websites like Yelp and Trip Advisor, I learned about how popular and exciting the Key West restaurants were. Even places that were described as run down and weather beaten still had amazing reviews when it came to the food and the service. I read as many reviews as I could and made a few reservations ahead of time to be sure we could get in to some of the more exciting sounding places.
We were both blown away by how good the food was. The chef at one of our now favorite restaurants came out to tell us about what they call New Island Cuisine: local food, such as seafood, fruits and spices, prepared with traditional cooking methods. The results were astounding, and surprisingly, many of the restaurants we went to not only had such great food, they also had extensive well thought out wine lists. During each meal, we managed to find several excellent choices to pair with our food.
We have five years to think of our next destination, but if winters keep being the way they have, I’m sure we’re going to end up back in Key West. We might not even wait five years.
My fiancé and I were looking into having a tropical island wedding, but we were disappointed by the lack of options. It seems like it didn’t matter which island we looked at. All of their wedding packages were basically the same. The bigger drawback to not being able to customize the plan was the expense of having guests. It seems like most of these resorts expect the wedding to basically be elopements.
One of my fiancé’s co-workers had just returned from a vacation in Key West, Florida, and when she told my fiancé about it, it got her to thinking. We did a little research, got in touch with a wedding planner and told her what we were thinking. She presented several different options that were all within our budget. Soon we made plans to fly down, meet with her in person and see what we could do.
She took us around to several different Key West restaurants so we could choose our reception menu. We visited a dozen unique locations where we could have the ceremony. She pointed out all of the different hotel options for our guests, as well as different travel options, and helped us design a wedding that worked for us.
We both fell in love with Key West so quickly that we decided to not only have a destination wedding, we were also going to make it our honeymoon as well. I don’t think we’ll be able to do everything we want to in a week, but we’re going to try. And if not, it gives us a reason to come back.