My husband and I are part of a group of four couples that go on a vacation together every year. It can be hard to find something everyone agrees on, and some people are pretty insistent that we go back to the same place year after year. Thankfully, that doesn’t happen, but it doesn’t make the decision process any less awkward. This year was especially tense when somebody brought up Key West, Florida.
The loudest votes of dissent came from those who only knew of the island through the song “Margaritaville.” They had no interest in spending seven days on a bar crawl, which was how they described it. My husband was interested in the island, however, so he did some research and put together a five minute presentation that he emailed to everyone. When they all watched it, the decision became unanimous.
There was a day spent for golfing for some and shopping for others (and it didn’t break down the way you might think). For those who didn’t want to go fishing, sleeping in and a spa was on the agenda. We had a chance to visit art galleries, even see live theater and dine at several exceptional Key West restaurants.
I wouldn’t necessarily call it the highlight of the trip, but certainly a big layer of icing on the cake – or merengue on the key lime pie – was when we actually participated in a bar crawl, visiting several of the famous bars and hearing stories about their history. What made it especially gratifying was seeing how much fun the original dissenters had meeting other people on the crawl and having a blast.
My buddies and I try to get away for a fishing trip once a year. Our wives are all pretty understanding (I think some of them secretly look forward to it) and we try to make it as much fun of an adventure as we can. Part of that comes from trying some place new every year. Typically, it’s a cabin on a lake or nearby a river, but this year we decided to really mix it up by heading down to Key West to do some fishing there.
Before we left, I did a little research to see what kind of fishing we could do. Five minutes later I discovered it might be shorter to list what we couldn’t do. There were private all day charters that went out to deep water, party boats they stayed closer to shore, and even flats fishing, regarded by some as the pinnacle in sport fishing. Naturally, we tried them all.
Over the week, we saw more fish then we could imagine, and the stories of the ones that got away were amazing. Some of the fish was catch and release, but we made sure to get plenty of photographic proof, so our wives knew we actually fished and didn’t spend the whole time walking up and down Duval Street. And the fish we could keep, it turns out, we could take to several Key West restaurants where they’d make us dinner with it. It’s a great feeling to be on an outdoor dining patio, palm trees overhead, laughing and joking with some of your best friends eating fish you caught earlier that day.
My company is pretty laid back when it comes to summertime. We typically slow down, so as a bonus, the boss splits shifts each week, meaning every other workweek is only four days long. We don’t get paid for the day off, but it doesn’t count against our vacation time, so it works out okay. As soon as the schedule came out, my girlfriend and I put circles around all of my three day weekends so we could make plans. Most were local festivals or just getting away for a night, but the big one was a trip to Key West, Florida.
He had been once a couple years earlier, but that was only on a cruise and we knew we needed to see more of it. Granted, we didn’t think we’d see enough of Key West on a three day weekend, but we knew we could get the most out of our time. We actually left Thursday night, spending the night in Miami, so we could catch the first flight in the next morning. That meant by nine am on Friday we were debating which of the Key West restaurants we should be having breakfast at.
We spent the next three days loving our tropical island vacation. We made sure not to try and rush anything, but rather enjoy all that we were doing. That meant plenty of time spent at the beach, many hours listening to live original music, and visiting as many Key West restaurants as we could to get our fill of fresh seafood before we had to leave Monday evening. It was easily the best weekend of our summer.
My wife and I, our idea of a fun vacation sounds a little dull to most people we know. We like to explore important locations in the country’s history. We still go out to nice restaurants and nightclubs while on vacation, but the original destination is chosen by wanting to learn more about its place in our country’s growth.
A few years ago, two items came to our attention that made us consider Key West as a possible destination vacation. One was the centennial celebration of Henry Flagler’s railroad across the ocean (now the Overseas Highway) and the second was the upcoming 500 year celebration of Ponce de Leon first discovering the Florida Keys. Neither my wife nor I knew much about Key West outside of its reputation as a party town, but the more research we did, the more we learned about its unique place in history.
For instance, even though Florida was a Confederate State, Key West managed to remain supportive of the Union. We also learned that at different times in its history, it was both the richest city in the country and one of the first to declare bankruptcy. It was home to some of the most influential artists and writers, and was one of the pioneering cities when it came to gay rights.
Seven days was not nearly enough to explore all of the history Key West had to offer. Part of that problem stemmed from all the great Key West restaurants we had to choose from, and their leisurely lunches and decadent dinners. In fact, much to the surprise of our friends, we’ve already booked a vacation back next year.
For years I have always been taking the same summer vacation. Problem is, so has apparently everyone else, and they all want to be there at the same time. The moments of relaxation have become so few and far between as the crowds have grown that it just hasn’t been worth it the last few years. This year I decided to do something radically different. Instead of heading north into the mountains, I decided to go south to Key West. I so made the right decision.
From the moment I switched planes and saw only a dozen other people flying to the southernmost island I knew I was in for a treat. Sure enough, when I checked in, the hotel clerk told me they were only at about half capacity. That meant I got to sit by the pool and not be bothered, have my choice of any of the Key West restaurants and not have to wait for a table, and got to know all of my bartenders on a first name basis in about two days’ time.
Naturally, when I got back to work and people asked where I went, they all said I must be crazy to go to Key West in the summertime. That was when I pointed out the average temperature down there had actually been less than what it was the same week at the resort I used to visit every year. Of course, now I wonder if I shouldn’t have told them that. I don’t want them crowding up Key West next year.
I’m not a fan of crowds, which can make going on vacation a little tricky. If I want to go somewhere during their slow season, I run the risk of places I want to visit not being open. It’s a trade-off I’ve been willing to make, but ever since I visited Key West, Florida, I realized it was one I didn’t have to worry about much anymore.
The busy time of the year down there runs basically from Christmas through Memorial Day, or so I’ve been told. I wouldn’t know from experience, but what I do know is that in July, I can walk into any of my favorite Key West restaurants for a great meal of fresh seafood. I can sit down at any of the bars I like to visit, get a seat up close to the live music, and probably end up getting to meet a local or two. I can pick my spot to watch the sunset without worrying about someone getting in my way, and I can take all the time in the world lounging by the pool with a good book, knowing nobody’s going to ask me if the seat next to me is taken.
It helps that, surprisingly enough, the weather there is not nearly as hot as you might think. When I compare the temperatures to other, much more crowded places where I could take my summer vacation, it turns out that many of them are just as hot if not hotter. So what if I don’t know what spring break in Key West is like? I know what summer vacation is like, and that suits me just fine.
The first time I went to Key West was spring break my senior year of college. I immediately fell in love and tried to go back down every couple of years. Usually I went the same time of year, when the cold at home was too much to bear. A few years ago, I got a travel deal alert for a super cheap airfare. The trip was for late July and I thought it would be too hot, but the deal was too good to pass up on, so I booked it.
The heat ended up being a non-issue, partially because Key West in the summer isn’t as hot as you might think, and mostly because I was having way too much fun. I really got an understanding and feel for what life was like when it was much less crowded and the locals went on their own tropical vacation, or “staycations” as they like to be known. I got to do everything I always did when I went down there, including eat at my favorite Key West restaurants and spend a day fishing for tarpon, but what made it special was getting to know the people who call it home.
They’re the ones who explained how to handle the heat: simply do everything a little bit slower. Suddenly having plans wasn’t so important, hurrying to the next thing didn’t matter, and as long as I knew when it was happy hour where and what time the sunset was, I would be fine. My annual summer vacation is coming up next month, and I can’t wait to hurry up and do nothing.