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.
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.
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 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.
This is my senior year of college and my friends and I wanted to do something special. We’ve done spring break trips to destination vacation spots the last few years, but this year, as seniors, we wanted to do something extra special. That was when we decided on Key West, Florida.
It had everything that we would normally want in a spring break vacation. We could spend the days hanging out on the water. That meant both if we felt active and could snorkel on the reef or we were feeling a little more relaxed. Those days we could just lay down on the beach. Volleyball was there if we wanted to join, but if not, we could just sleep off the night before.
Something that made Key West stand out opposed to other Caribbean island vacations was the level of quality found at the Key West restaurants. We knew this would be one of the last chances we’d all be together until graduation, and then after that, who knows when we would see each other again. That made it important to us to have one night together having a dinner that was important.
Turns out we found such a great island we did the dinner three times. None of them were as heavy as the first, mostly because it took us very little to feel how great spring break in Key West Florida can be. Everyone we met was so warm and engaging that when we were out celebrating, we found plenty of people willing to celebrate with us.
When you grow up and exit the years in your twenties, your priorities shift just a little bit. You may have children now or you could be just entering the adult portion of your life and want to act accordingly. Instead of planning island vacations around booze and late night partying, you will probably choose a more historical site where you can relax, learn about a different culture and participate in some interesting, foreign activities.
As you quickly make the transition to your adult years, you will also become more intrigued with fine dining and even outdoor dining when you are on vacation. Sometimes being outside will be a more quiet dining experience than hearing all of the people all around you in a crowded restaurant. Many things change as you get older…this is merely one!
Your island vacation should also be planned around the presence (or lack thereof) of children. There is a special breed of people who take their children on vacation. Not too many people want to hear a screaming baby when they are trying to soak up some rays on a quiet beach. However, they paid their money, too, so you cannot argue. However, this can be avoided by doing adequate research for making your reservations. There are some companies who strictly prohibit children from being a part of their resort.