I grew up reading about pirates and shipwrecks and all the stories of lost treasures. I would dream about what it must be like to spend your life searching for gold and silver and jewels that had been missing for hundreds of years. One of my idols has always been Mel Fisher, and I was just old enough to remember the excitement from when he first started bringing up the treasure from the wreck of the Nuestra Senora de Atocha.
As a college graduation present, my parents took me on vacation to the island where Mel made his great discovery: Key West, Florida. We went during the annual Mel Fisher Days, a celebration to the man and what he achieved. I had studied so much about him and his adventure that I felt like I knew him personally, but I was still blown away to see the actual treasure and meet some of the people who helped him find it.
I look forward to going back every year, not only to talk to other treasure buffs and catch up with people from all over the world who have become my friends, but also to spend time enjoying the island. The people tell me it’s a little quieter that time of year, and I like the opportunity it gives me to visit the Key West restaurants and explore the island a little bit on my own. And naturally, I spend some time on the water, still dreaming about what it must have been like, just like I did as a child.
My wife and I just made our final arrangements for our fifth annual summer trip to Key West. Our friends think we’re crazy for going so far south in the summertime, but we’ve learned that, as much as we both love key West any time of year, the summertime is when it is most special to us.
Part of the charm is that the island seems more laid back. There aren’t as many people around, so no matter what we decide to do on any particular day, there’s no problem getting it done. It gives us a chance to explore some new Key West restaurants, while still giving us plenty of time to go back and revisit our favorites. We don’t feel rushed when we are walking down the street, and we can really relax and enjoy ourselves. After all, isn’t that what a tropical vacation is supposed to be about?
The hidden secret that we haven’t told most people is that the weather is far more pleasant than you might expect. It’s not nearly as hot as it can be in other parts of Florida during the same time of year, and there is almost always a refreshing breeze blowing off from the water. We make sure we stay at the same hotel every time, not only because of how nice the room is and friendly the staff is, but also because they have a beautiful hammock in the back of the property. It’s the perfect size for two, and there is nothing better than napping there as the breeze slowly sways us.
I know that the point of a vacation, especially one to a tropical island, is so you can spend the whole time just relaxing. But to me, lying on a beach all day is just not something I can do. I get restless after an hour, and so the thought of going to an all-inclusive resort somewhere or taking a cruise just doesn’t appeal to me. My idea of a perfect island vacation spot is Key West, Florida.
It isn’t that I want to be doing something super active or physical, either. Call me a nerd but I love to learn things, and with a history that goes back 500 years, there is always something new for me to learn about when I visit. There are museums to explore, walking tours I can take, even just visiting some of the historic homes and buildings and learning about their place in the history books.
There are plenty of chances for me to relax poolside, and I do almost every morning, with a cup of coffee and a newspaper. When I’m ready for something more, I know it is just a few blocks away. I’ve gone enough that now I start only with a vague idea, maybe just by picking a direction to head in, and spend my day learning about the island while refueling at various Key West restaurants. I may not come home with the greatest tan after one of my vacations, but I am fully refreshed and relaxed from my trip. Since that’s the point of a vacation, I think I’m enjoying the tropics just fine, in my own unique way.
For as much as my husband and I have in common, the things that are different tend to be very different. When I think of a vacation, I’m thinking island vacations, lounging in a hammock, watching the waves go by and relaxing. My husband likes to relax as well, but if there’s anything he can be snobbish about, it’s eating. He is very particular about the restaurants he eats at. This can make for a tricky time planning a vacation, but a few years ago, we found the perfect compromise in Key West.
I had suggested it, saying that it was close enough to Miami that we could spend a few days there to satisfy his culinary needs. Well, he got online and started looking up Key West restaurants and quickly decided that the only reason we would need to go to Miami was to change planes. Even I was surprised by the level of fine dining – casual elegance, our server called it – that we experienced on the beautiful outdoor dining decks.
Just as surprising as the restaurants was watching my husband try not just new foods, but new styles of food as well. There is such a strong Cuban and Bahamian influence on the island, there were foods we had never heard of. Usually he turns his nose up at anything that doesn’t strike him as fancy enough, but he loved it. Soon we were joining locals at some of their favorite spots, and they helped us find amazing crab cakes and what they considered the best key lime pie on the island. Now when we go on vacation, Key West gives us each everything we want.
Every year, my family and I go away for a Christmas getaway. I don’t just mean my wife and two kids either. This is a chance for cousins to see each other, grandparents to spoil the little ones and those of us in the middle to sneak away and catch up with each other. Trying to arrange something for everyone when dealing with that many people can be difficult, which is why over the years, we’ve taken to compiling a list of the best family Christmas vacations we could think of. I’ll admit that I never thought Key West would make that list, but I was surprised to find out I was wrong.
The first time I had visited the Southernmost Island I had only recently turned 22 and it was spring break in college. Naturally, that’s not the environment I think of when deciding the best places for Christmas vacations, especially when many of the travelers are well below the drinking age. My brother-in-law assured me that there was so much more to Key West than what I remember. After spending just five minutes on the internet with him, I could see he was right.
The kids loved taking the train tour around the island, and my daughter was even brave enough to pet a shark at the aquarium. We surprised my parents with a 50th anniversary dinner at one of the exceptional Key West restaurants. And let me tell you, it’s much more fun – and less cold – to make a snowman out of beach sand! We try not to repeat ourselves, but knowing it was one of our best family Christmas vacations, I’m sure we’ll be back real soon.