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.
I was fortunate enough to attend a supplementary high school program my last two years. It was great because it helped me focus on my studies and the small size made everybody very close. At my traditional high school graduation, I marched with almost 200 students. At my other school, there were 26 of us. With a class that small, not only are we able to keep in better touch, we can also have more fun reunions. This year it was Key West, Florida.
We schedule one every five years and we have a small list of requirements. The location has to be relatively easy to get to. With an airport of its own and a highway back to the mainland, everyone had a simple time making arrangements. There has to be plenty of places to stay and eat. Key West just opened two new resorts and remodeled another four hotels, giving them the highest number of rooms they’ve ever had, and there are over 300 Key West restaurants to choose from. Finally, it had to be a place few if any of us had visited and be a destination vacation we wouldn’t normally think of on our own.
In hindsight, what made Key West the best choice was not anything on that list, but the wide range of activities to choose from. Between all the ocean activities, the history, the arts and entertainment and the beaches, we didn’t feel the pressure to do everything together. We could all do our own thing and still get together every night for a meal to catch up. We vowed we’d never repeat a locale, but five years from now, we may have to rethink that rule.
I’ve been working as a server in Key West for a few years now. One customer that stands out in my mind came in a couple of years ago for lunch. He and his wife were on a cruise and point blank asked me what the quickest item on the menu was. We offered a slow simmering Cuban style stew that could be out in just a couple of minutes. He said, “We’ll take two, two waters and the check.” He did manage to find enough time to explain that since they were on the cruise, they wanted to see as much as they could in the little time they were here.
I was talking with some of my fellow restaurant working friends that night over beers and we all agreed they were missing out on what Key West had to offer. Part of the joy of coming here is to be able to relax and enjoy the laid back atmosphere. I understand a cruise only offers a limited amount of time to see everything a tropical island vacation has to offer, but how much of it are you going to remember when you simply try to rush through it all?
A few nights ago, I was at work and this couple came in for dinner. They relaxed, took their time and we got talking about all the different Key West restaurants they had visited during their stay. That was when they told me about their first visit: it was the same couple! We laughed about it, and they admitted that the only thing they really remember from their first visit was realizing they needed to come back when they could really enjoy Key West.
My husband jokes that I could be the star of my own reality show regarding the lengths I go to when it comes to saving money. But he certainly appreciates when we take all that money I save us and spend it on a destination vacation. Of course, me being me, I can’t book us a trip without making sure we’re saving money in the process. That’s why we’ve been going to Key West for our summer vacation the last few years.
Part of the reason we manage to save so much money on the trip is because a lot of people seem to think like our friends do: “Isn’t it hot there in the summer?” Well, yes and no. I mean it’s summer, so it’s hot everywhere, but Key West is actually cooler, by as much as ten degrees or more, than most of Florida, including many of the destination vacation spots. Plus, it’s cooler in a lot of other ways.
There is no place quite like Key West. If we want to spend an action packed day doing all sorts of activities, we can, and we can just as easily spend a quiet day walking the streets looking at the old houses or sitting by the pool with a book. The good thing about people thinking it’s too hot to visit means that rates are lower and lines are shorter, so not only do we save money over what that trip would cost us in February, we also get to enjoy more of it by not having to worry about crowds.
My son is graduating from college this spring, and he is fortunate enough to have a job waiting for him almost immediately after graduating. When he started interviewing, I told him to tell his prospective employers that he would need a couple of weeks between school and the real world. He thought it was so he could move. I knew it was so he could go to Key West.
I wanted to give him a graduation present that was something special and long lasting. I know that a vacation may not sound like something that lasts more than a week, but I knew that spending time in Key West, Florida would give him memories that would last a lifetime. I knew some of it was my own projection and remembering the effect it had on me when I first went there. I’m sure some of the Key West restaurants are different but I bet the seafood is just as fresh, the water is just as blue and the sunset is just as beautiful.
Of course, I want to make sure he has the chance to make those memories on his own, so that is why his mother and I will only be there for the first half of the trip. Besides, I’m sure some things have not changed about Key West, and a young man of 22 will find it a lot easier to have fun and enjoy his tropical island vacation if he knows his parents aren’t right around the corner. I just hope he doesn’t fall too much in love with the island and forget to come home for his new job.
When I was a kid, my dad would take my brother and I fishing a few times a year. Neither of us were that good (or that interested) but my dad tried anyway. I’ll give him credit for being smart enough to save his real fishing trips for when he would go out with his buddies,. Looking back, I realized that it was less about the fishing and more about just being sure that he had time alone with his sons. I was thinking about that when I made plans for his Father’s Day present this year and a trip to Key West.
Even though he’s talked about wanting to go deep sea fishing or try something else, he’s never done anything other than the lakes and rivers back home. The first thing I did after booking our flight and hotel was to start looking into some fishing charters. I read as many online reviews as I could find and ended up arranging a few different trips. We’ll be going deep sea fishing, another trip takes us to the reef and we’ll also spend some time fishing the flats.
Another good thing I discovered was that Key West is more than just a bar and party town at night. There are several great Key West restaurants we can choose from, a walking ghost tour that I think he will like and both a jazz club and a blues club where we can enjoy a good cigar with some live music. I just hope the trip to Key West won’t disappoint him too much: for all I know he could be looking forward to the annual bottle of aftershave I give him.
A group of friends and I work as teachers most of the year and spend our summers as counselors and program directors at overnight camps. Needless to say, this doesn’t allow for a lot of away time, so we try to make the most of it when we have it. A couple of years ago, we discovered Key West, and not only did we find so much to do, or not do, depending on our mood, we also got the most bang for our buck.
It was a hard sell for a couple of the guys, seeing as how the trip was planned for two weeks in August and we were going as far south as we could and still be in the country. To be honest, I think all of us felt a little trepidation, even though we had seen the weather charts and what the average temps were. We convinced ourselves that it wouldn’t be too bad, and if it was, there would be plenty of air conditioned Key West restaurants and bars we could duck into, and all of that beautiful cool ocean water to go swimming in.
Yeah, it was warm, but you know what? That might not have been the best thing. Keeping schedules as busy as we do makes it hard to just slow down and relax, but Key West coaxed us into that. We spent days the way you should on a tropical island vacation, lounging in the shade and sun feeling the tropical breezes, and nights that were filled with wonderful meals, exciting bars and great live music. This year will mark the third year we’ve made this trip, and nobody has even suggested we think about somewhere else.