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.
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.
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.
We live in Ithaca, New York, and this past winter, our town achieved fifteen minutes of internet fame when our board of tourism replaced its typical web pages with links to the Florida Keys tourism board. When you’re buried under six feet of snow and the temperature is hovering in single digits, it’s pretty obvious that Key West is a better vacation spot than upstate New York.
As much as we would have liked to get away during this horrendous winter, between our kids being in school (when it wasn’t closed) and the airport being buried, we could do nothing but dream. That didn’t stop my husband from looking into what a vacation in Key West would be like. He was smart enough to look at times when all four of us could go, and that was when he made some surprising discoveries.
Discovery one was that there was plenty to do for everybody. Key West has a reputation as a party town, but we found several different activities that would keep us all busy. And when we didn’t want to be busy, there was always a beach to go to. Discovery two was that the average summer temperature in Key West is lower than other more “touristy” locations in Florida. We all talked about it and decided we would try something new this year.
We’re still undecided about flying in or driving down on the Overseas Highway, but no matter how we get there, we are already looking into planning our summer vacation by letting everyone pick one day where they get to choose what it is we do. With so much to choose from, we’re going to run out of days before we run out of options.
Pretty much from the first date, my husband and I knew how to compromise on almost everything so we would both enjoy what we were doing. Still, I was a little nervous when we started talking wedding plans. I always envisioned a traditional ceremony and reception, while he wanted a tropical island wedding. I wasn’t sure how it was going to work out until we discovered Key West.
We went down on an early scouting trip even before we knew much about it, and almost right away, many of my fears were put at ease. There were several churches to choose from, and many Key West restaurants had the menu, style and décor that I was looking for, but then a strange thing started to happen to me.
The more I thought about our time down there, the more I realized I didn’t want to have the same wedding I could back home. We started looking at some of the different options, including getting married on a boat at sunset, or at a historic fort on the beach, and I realized how much fun and how memorable that could be.
My husband was so excited about my change of mind that he blindsided me and found the perfect reception spot that was everything I could have hoped for. There were beautiful outdoor dining decks, some of the best seafood I ever had, and a casual elegance to the whole evening that was fancy enough to make the event special but relaxed enough so everyone had a great time. And when the reception was over, we didn’t even have to pack for the honeymoon.
Part of the reason my fiancé and I chose to have a tropical island wedding was because we wanted to create a complete experience for our guests. We knew that no matter how hard we tried to recreate the feel of Key West, Florida – an island that was special to each of us even before we met – it still wouldn’t be the same as if we were there. We also knew that meant making sure the menu for our reception wasn’t full of the same choices we could have gotten at home.
Part of why we love going to visit the southernmost island is to visit the amazing Key West restaurants. The hardest part of any vacation down there is deciding which restaurants we are going to visit. There are so many great ones to discover, but at the same time, we don’t want to forget about our favorites. Let’s just say that, even though the fresh seafood is healthy for you, when we get home from eating all that amazing key lime pie, we spend a lot of extra time at the gym.
We’re making sure that our reception menu features some of those great food choices. Obviously, you can’t be in Key West and not have some conch fritters, but we are also going to have Mahi sliders, shrimp and crab cakes, and plenty of Key West pink shrimp as well. The seafood is too fresh to not make it a featured part of the menu. One thing we are not doing is having a wedding cake. We’re going to replace that with a wedding key lime pie.
Planning a wedding reception is like buying a car. You may know exactly what you think you want, but you probably don’t know the best way to go about getting it. It takes a certain amount of trust and believing that the person you are working with is going to help you make the best decision. The difference is you probably haven’t spent a fair amount of time picturing the day you buy a car, surrounded by family and friends, wearing a beautiful dress and committing to spending the rest of your life with that car. Sometimes it can be tough letting go of some of the decision making when it comes to planning a wedding reception, but it might be the best thing for you, especially if yours happens to be a destination wedding in Key West.
It’s the little things that are going to make your wedding and reception the memorable event that you want it to be, and those little things are going to be best handled by the professionals. Key West hosts over 1,000 island weddings a year, which means the Key West restaurants know how to make the perfect wedding reception. Obviously, they know this is your event and will work with you to make it perfect, but remember that this is (hopefully) the first wedding reception you’ve planned. Much like when you bought your first new car, the people selling it to you had plenty of experience, so is it with the planning of your island wedding reception. They want to make it just as special as you do, and they know just how to do that.
All sorts of recent surveys say that the majority of people who have paid vacation days seldom take all of what is available, and many end up using less than half. While some of this is attributable to the 24/7 workplace fostered on us by smartphones and instant connectivity, I think some of it also has to do with people not knowing how to take a proper vacation anymore. To get the most out of your time away, you need to be sure you do something that can’t be replicated just anywhere. That is why I am a big fan of “destination vacations” and my favorite one has always been Key West, Florida.
What makes Key West such a special place is that there are many things there I could do other places, but there is no other place I could do them all. With its mix of museums and historical architecture, water sports and golf course, relaxing days on the beach and exciting nights on the town, and the world famous Key West restaurants, I know that when I’m on my vacation, no matter what mood I’m in, I will be able to do what interests me.
More and more companies are instituting a “use it or lose it” policy when it comes to vacation days, and I’m seeing too many of my friends simply take a day off here and there without doing anything special. Don’t be like them. Plan your destination vacation today and make sure you get your money’s worth with your vacation days. You earned them, so go out and enjoy them.
It’s funny. People who otherwise live fully immersed in the 21st century (hybrid cars, smart phones, Bluetooth) hear the phrase “island vacations” and immediately picture something from “Robinson Crusoe.” They expect to have to fend off angry native headhunters while eating coconuts and sleeping under palm trees. At best, they picture something like “Gilligan’s Island.” Let me tell you that the 21st century is alive and well when it comes to island vacations, and no place is that more evident than Key West, Florida.
Key West certainly has the added bonus of being an island you can drive to, which is helpful both in planning how you are going to get there, as well as if you discover you forgot to pack something important. Along with all of the unique shops and Key West restaurants that give the island its singular charm, there are also nationally recognized drug stores and shopping areas in case you forgot a prescription or break your suitcase. This road also helps bring other modern conveniences, so when you are out for a night of fine dining enjoying the fresh seafood, you can do so either under the gentle trade winds on an outdoor patio or in the cool comfort of an air-conditioned dining room.
As for the natives, well, they will certainly come after you, but only to make sure you try their signature Cuban coffee or the best key lime pie ever, or to help you find a charter for the afternoon so you can snorkel or fish (or both). Key West will give you a vacation from the past with all of the comforts of today.