Key West Kudos

Books and movies have lured us to the Florida Keys. The astonishing color of the water, the panache, and the history will bring us back.


Key West Kudos

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by two cruisers on August 18, 2006

Key West is a small island that leaves a big impression. In a 2 night/3 day stay we visited a variety of attractions, observed the party-hard crowd as well as the quiet neighborhoods and live-on-board community. Surprisingly there is very little of the coastline in the form of beaches. Where they exist, they are crowded and parking nearby is an awesome challenge. We stayed in a bed & breakfast within walking distance of most of the attractions. Our car remained parked throughout our whole stay. For part of our sightseeing adventures we rode the Old Towne Trolley (about $20 per adult). There are other similar tours but this one had the advantage of multiple boarding privileges. We would ride on it for a few blocks, explore a neighborhood, reboard, etc. This was good for only one loop of the island. If you have deeper pockets you can rent 2 and 4 passenger electric carts. These appeal to the cruise ship crowd and have the advantage of being able to squeeze into some pretty tight parking spots (about $100 for all day). Shopping opportunities pop up everywhere. The best shops are found in the grid of streets near Mallory Square. My favorite place was the Clinton Square Market Building. Near sunset, kiosks pop up along the seawall to provide a more bazaar shopping experience. There are a lot of attractions competing for the tourist dollar. With our time limited we chose historical over hokey, scenic over glitzy.
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Garden House B&B￿

Member Rating 2 out of 5 by two cruisers on August 20, 2006

I was so enchanted with the architecture, plants, and local color, I turned the wrong way on Elizabeth. Oh, well got some sight seeing done while we located The Garden House. We had searched the Internet looking for just the right place to stay in Key West. My first choice was a hotel adjacent to Mallory Square. At $400 per night we quickly ruled that one out. Some of the affordable places were on the east end of the island. Knowing about the parking problem, we decided to find a place within walking distance of the attractions we were most interested in. We had read that parking spots were at a premium. In fact, our bed and breakfast didn’t provide parking spaces. We had to use a small parking lot at the church next door. For a charitable contribution we could park in one of 5 or 6 spaces allowed the B&B. The room was about $180 per night with taxes. The office for the bed and breakfast was a side room off the front porch. It was tiny. On the other side of the office was the locked gate entryway to the garden and pool and rooms. The proprietor could monitor access and conduct his business. We were escorted through the gate and down a narrow walkway lined with lush plants and an overcrowded bike rack. Our room was named the Royal Poinciana. It looked really good….. on the Internet. Actually it was quite sparse, bed, bed tables, one wicker chair with a sagging bottom, a chest of drawers with a TV on top. The ceramic tile floor was a good idea for island living. Our private lanai (patio) had two comfortable wicker chairs and a table. We had hoped it would be a little more private than it was. Not only was it in full view of the main entry, there was no gate or screen to discourage others from sharing the space.

The innkeeper was surprised by the bicycle parked on the patio. Told us he would take care of that. That did become a source of aggravation. The couple in the room above us decided that our private lanai was a good place for them to store their bikes where they could keep an eye on them from their window. The French doors in our room leading to the lanai had sheer curtains, which meant we had no privacy when the bikers came and went. It also made using the space awkward due to being crowded by bikes. When the innkeeper finally got through to them that the lanai was rented to us, they retaliated by stomping around upstairs. There was also a well attended beer and wine happy hour from 5-6 pm. In the morning we found the continental breakfast to be modest if not skimpy and the hostess wasn’t very good about cleaning up sticky tables or putting out clean dishes. On second thought $400/night on Mallory Square sounds pretty reasonable.

Garden House Bed & Breakfast
329 Elizabeth Street
Key West, FL, 33040
(305) 296-5368

Billie's

Member Rating 1 out of 5 by two cruisers on August 20, 2006

It was late afternoon. We wanted to be around for the sunset ceremony, but we didn’t want to try to get into a restaurant afterwards along with the entire tourist population of the island. Bill read posted menus and picked a chicken restaurant called “Billie's”. It was located close to the walkway to the Mallory (Sunset) Square. Good ideas, huh? However, the service was extremely slow. The food had a high grease content. Altogether, it was a bad choice. By the time we finished eating and settled the check we found the square so packed with people we couldn’t see the water let alone the sunset!
Billie's
407 Front St.
Key West, Florida, 33040
(305) 294-9292

Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by two cruisers on August 20, 2006

Jimmy Buffett is or has been a resident of Key West. His music certainly is strongly influenced by the members of the Conch Republic. They make a good fit. The café menu is not outstanding, but it offers good meals with catchy names. I enjoyed a Cheese Burger in Paradise. During the course of the meal I heard most of my favorite songs. Like the rest of Duval Street, where it is located, the emphasis here is on drinking and camaraderie. The building is a typical Key West frame construction with high ceilings and lots of whirling paddle fans. Jimmy’s Margaritaville in New Orleans has much more fanciful décor. This one leans more to the functional. Next door is a well stocked gift shop with T-shirts, CDs, souvenir glasses, and some nice poster prints.
Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville
500 Duval Street
Key West, Florida, 33040
(305) 292-1435

Two Friends Patio

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by two cruisers on August 20, 2006

We needed caffeine and I needed to sit down. A stop at the Two Friends Patio, 512 Front Street solved both problems. This was an open air restaurant with decorative bamboo poles supporting grass shack roof. We picked a table near the street so we could watch the parade of tourists. Lots of tattoos out there. Lots of trophy wives. I am keeping my eye on Bill. We had intended to return here for a meal as the menu showed good fare and reasonable prices for breakfast and lunch. The evening meal is higher. Didn’t make it back this trip, Key West has so many places to chose from and we had so little time.
Two Friends Patio Restaurant
512 Front Street
Key West, Florida, 33040
(305) 296-3124

Harry S. Truman Little White House

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by two cruisers on August 20, 2006

President Truman's doctor suggested he retreat to a warmer climate to recuperate from bronchial pneumonia. He came without his family the first visit. He thrived here and soon had the house spiffed up so that he could convince Bess and Margaret to join him. He spent 175 days of his presidency here.

We entered the Truman Annex at the Whitehead Street Presidential Gates at 111 Front Street. The Truman Annex previously was a military base. The building used for the Little White House was built in 1890 as a duplex to house the base commandant and the paymaster. In the early 1900s it was converted into a single family dwelling to house the base commandant. During WWI, Thomas Edison lived here while working on research for the U.S. Navy. President Eisenhower recuperated from a heart attack here in 1956. During the Bay of Pigs incident President Kennedy met here with Prime Minister MacMillan. The Carters spent holidays and New Years Eve here.

No longer used as a Presidential Retreat, the
property still hosts meetings with world dignitaries.

We purchased our tour tickets ($10/adult) in the gift shop and then waited in a small museum. The buildings, while listed on the National Register of Historic Places, are owned, maintained and tours provided by Historic Tours of America®. They do an excellent job.

We entered the former duplex and immediately went upstairs to a suite of rooms that had been converted into a small theater. Here we watched a good film about the life of Harry S. Truman. We followed the guide into the other duplex where we could see the "palatial" room that Harry had redecorated to lure Bess to Key West. Connecting bathrooms provided a private entrance to President Truman's room. He stayed in a separate room because he often worked late into the night. His room had windows out onto the veranda on two sides and he always had security and White House personnel stationed out there. When he traveled he took a brief case filled with 78 rpm recordings of his favorite music. He was the only one allowed to carry that case. The tour continued on the main floor veranda. This room was the playground and workstation for Truman. He hosted many national and foreign dignitaries in the recreation room. The furniture was bamboo with tropical flower upholstered. In one corner was large round poker table. In the video we watched it mentioned that the president spent evenings reading or watching movies. "Watching movies". Well, this what he really did. He would put the word out to gather a forum and they would play poker and drink bourbon.

Connected to the game room is a formal dinning room that was the diplomatic and family gathering place for several presidents. On the veranda just outside the dining room is a tiny telephone booth that housed the secret service man. The living room seems very stiff and formal, but it did serve as the President’s office also.

Harry S. Truman Little White House Museum
111 Front St.
Key West, Florida, 33040
(305) 294-9911

Mallory Square-Sculpture Garden

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by two cruisers on August 20, 2006

We found the main entrance to Mallory Square. The tour trolleys start from this point and a number of attractions, like the Shipwreck Museum are clustered here. You probably could spend your entire stay in this small area and have a good time. The city has done a good job of placing objects of interest in the area. (and it's free, too) The best is a collection of sculpture busts of famous Key West citizens. We would try to guess who the person was before looking at the plaque. I gave up on this, because I only got Harry S. Truman right. It was free entertainment and educational, too. While we looked at the sculptures we had to kick chickens. Key West has a feral chicken population. Officials estimate there as many as 2,000 roosters and hens running free on the eight-square-mile island. Old chicken-killer Bill (Poultry Disease Research retiree) wasn’t pleased and kept showing the birds a pantomime of his killing technique. They kept an eye on him. They did have a city ordinance on their side. Recently some of the birds have been gathered up and taken off-island to be adopted. Uh huh.
Mallory Square
300 Duval Street At Front Street
Key West, Florida, 33040
(305) 296-4557

Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Museum

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by two cruisers on August 20, 2006

We both remember watching the news coverage in 1985 when Mel Fisher made his great discovery in the Florida Straits. He and his crew literally vacuumed up sunken treasure from the lost ship, Atocha. The first discovery of the “main pile” of treasure included 1,041 silver bars; boxes of coins 3,000 to a box; 65 pounds of gold; gold and silver artifacts; and almost 3,000 Colombian emeralds. There was considerable controversy over the State of Florida’s claims on the historic salvage. We had seen jewelry for sale made from coins from the Atocha. Today we got to see a lot more of the loot. In a substantial building near Mallory Square we toured a good museum in too, short a period of time. We arrived within a half hour of closing. The museum showed us there were more Fisher finds that the Atocha. Earlier he had found a slaver ship and another of the 1622 galleons, the Santa Margarita. Artifacts such as cannons, manacles, and other metal objects that survived life at the bottom of the sea were on display. One room was devoted to the colorful life of the Fishers, highs, lows, tragedies and successes. In one display case we could insert a hand and lift a gold bar…that’s heavy. I was particularly impressed with the filigree work on the fine jewelry, chalices, and other ornate artifacts that survived that long in the ocean. We had to hurry and only made a perfunctory tour of the gift shop before the huge heavy doors were closed and barred.
Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Museum
200 Greene St
Key West, Florida, 33040
(305) 294-2633

Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by two cruisers on August 20, 2006

Every night Key West celebrates the setting of the sun. We wandered down early and found the plaza empty so decided to have supper first. By the time we finished eating and settled the check we found the square so packed with people we couldn’t see the water let alone the sunset! Thanks to the invention of digital cameras, I was able to hold the camera above the heads of the people around me and look in the LCD view finder…and watch the sunset. It wasn’t a spectacular one and we didn’t see that fabled green flash.

The party atmosphere was fun. People were just there for a good time. The art work and crafts for sale varied in quality as did the routines of the street performers. After sunset the crowd wanders up Duval street in search of liquid rewards for their arduous labor.

Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square
1 Whitehead Street, Mallory Square
Key West, Florida, 33040
(305) 296-4557

Old Town Trolley Tours

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by two cruisers on August 20, 2006

We bought tickets of the Old Town Trolley to tour the island. ($20/adult) We selected this one because we could get off at any stop and reboard later. We just couldn’t pass go and collect $200. Some of the tour drivers were better that others in being humorous and informative. Some got tips from us, some didn’t. We boarded at Mallory Square. We learned from our first driver that Tennessee Williams lived at the La Concha Hotel for two years while he wrote “Streetcar Named Desire”.
After lunch and a little shopping we rode to the next stop, about 3 1/2 blocks…but they were uphill. Poor excuse, Key West rises all of 5 feet above sea level. This stop is called the Bahama Village Market, just half a block up the hill is the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum.

After our tour we reboarded the trolley. This trolley driver told us about the lighthouse across the street from the Hemingway House. We had wondered why it was sitting so far from shore. One particularly bad hurricane seriously undercut the structure, so it was decided to move it inland. This was the highest point of the island.

We proceeded on the round island tour. The next trolley stop was at Henry Flagler’s historic Grand Hotel. Since he pushed the railroad down the keys, he needed a reason for people to come on down.
We did disembark at Southernmost trolley stop. We walked to the Southernmost Point (continental) U.S.A. monument. Traffic was thick with people trying to take pictures from car windows. I pity the residents of the neighborhood. It must be nearly impossible to get in and out of driveways. There was a long line of people waiting to photograph each other in front of the monument. We spent our time walking behind the monument and looking at the Southernmost rocks and the Southernmost crabs.

Our tour guide had told us the tale of how Key West became the Conch Republic. The Federal government began a policy of searching all vehicles returning to the mainland from the keys in search of illegal aliens. That greatly effected tourism, and the daily routine of Florida citizens who live on the keys. They retaliated by seceding from the union and declaring themselves the Conch Republic. They then declared war on the USA, then immediately surrendered to the Navy base and demanded $1 billion in foreign aid and relief.

We visited the Historic Seaport and marina. We were duly impressed with the number and variety of boats lined up along the piers.

We returned to the starting point via Duval street. The guide told us that Duval street has two personalities. Lower Duval has 80 bars in a three block stretch. At least three of them are clothing-free. Upper Duval is lively, too but in a different way. This is where the fancy shops and galleries are.
We actually saw Mile Marker 0, just before we turned into the Clinton Square-Mallory Square traffic.
Old Town Trolley Tours
6631 Maloney Ave.
Key West, Florida, 33040
(305) 296-6688

Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by two cruisers on August 20, 2006

The house was built by Asa Tift on the highest point on the island. It was built from coral blocks that were cut from the property. The hole in the ground where the blocks were cut from became a basement, a very rare thing to have in Florida. The house is virtually hurricane proof and the basement is always dry. Hemingway had visited Key West often before he bought this house at a tax auction for $8,000. He lived here from 1931 until 1940 with his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer and their two sons. He was absent a lot. Short absences were to the bars on Duval Street. Longer ones were to Cuba. During one of those trips, Pamela had a $20,000 swimming pool installed. He was so furious at the expense, he pressed his last penny into the cement on the pool’s deck. This wasn’t the first decorating project Pamela undertook at the house. She was an editor for Vogue magazine, and tried to bring the house up to that standard. She removed all the paddle fans and installed Venetian glass Chandeliers. The marriage didn’t last and the divorce settlement favored Pamela. He did manage to get some writing done in the upper floor room of the carriage house. Books from this era include: "A Farewell to Arms", "Death in the Afternoon", "To Have and Have Not" and he started "For whom the Bell Tolls."

The Hemingway boys had a cat named Snowball who had six toes on each foot. The grounds of the estate now are the home to about 63 six-toed cats. We were allowed to pet them but not pick them up. The tour started in the living room where we saw an original Picasso, a lot of hunting trophies and some unusual souvenirs from Papa Hemingway's world travels. Across the wide center hall that ran the length of the house was the dining room. Over the table was one of Pauline’s Venetian glass chandeliers. Ugly. A large side board housed the Hemingway liquor supply. From what we heard, bottles didn’t have time to get dusty. Upstairs the master bedroom is as large as the living room. A rope around the bed was to keep tourists off, but all the estates cats are welcome to nap there. The oversize bed has an unusual headboard. It is made from a gate. Above that is an original painting by Henry Faulkner depicting this house. An unusual set of chairs were also in this room. One was a birthing chair and the other was a midwife’s chair. A shaded veranda surrounded the second floor. We walked on it to get to the boys bedroom on the west side of the house. They also had a playroom and a lovely large bathroom that was the first second floor bathroom in Key West.
A small gift shop is in the pool house. The house/museum is open 365 days a year and the cost was $11/adult.
Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum
907 Whitehead Street
Key West, Florida, 33040
(305) 294-1136

Duval Street

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by two cruisers on August 20, 2006

Duval Street is the colorful street tourists crowd during the day and the place where serious party-types gather at night. Drinking is an institution in Key West accompanied by load music. There are three types of music: Loud, Extremely Loud, and Instant Ear Damage. Pub crawls are a common activity. We were told there are three all nude bars, gay bars, lesbian bars and for Parrotheads...Margaritaville. We walked the street after sunset, but stayed out of the bars.

Dog-Cat-Mouse, nationally renowned Sunset Ceremony street performers had relocated to Duval Street. Bill had seen a street performer on TV being interviewed by Tom Brokow. This guy's “act” was to have his pets form a stack...dog then cat then mouse on top. He has been a fixture at the sunset ceremony for a long time. We didn’t see him in the square, but we practically tripped over them walking up Duval Street. Bill handed me some money to put in the “hat” so I could take a picture. Despite flashing cameras the beasties remained very, very passive. I did notice there were spare mice in the bucket...just in case. The guy reminded me of the comic Gallagher.

When we turned onto the street that led to our bed and breakfast, I experienced a little apprehension. Within a block of the noise and activity of Duval Street we found street people curled up asleep on steps leading to houses. At least they won’t freeze to death in this climate.

Getting There and Back.

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by two cruisers on August 20, 2006

There are three ways to get to Key West, by air, by water, or by the most gorgeous stretch of highway we have traveled in years. Homestead is the jumping off spot from the Florida mainland. Several years ago Hurricane Andrew devastated this region, particularly the town of Homestead. We did notice that many buildings, signs, utility poles and traffic lights looked “new”, or rather all seemed to be the same age. The community had done a good job of recovery.

After Homestead we had a dramatic change of scenery as we crossed the swamp. At one time the Everglades National Park border was the west shoulder of the highway. Many sections of the highway were long no passing zones. Apparently this is disturbing to the majority of drivers down here. The DOT had put out a series of Burma Shave type signs to humorously let people know how many more miles till the next passing zone. Leaving the swamp we drove on a long causeway. Most of the time tall shrubs (mangrove) blocked the view of Barnes Sound. Occasionally we could see the dark blue choppy waters. Road signs had warned us that in case of storms this causeway would be closed and access to the keys would be from the Card Sound Road Toll Bridge only.

At the end of the causeway was Key Largo. I visited here with my parents in 1961 and remember only having Key Lime pie. I can see why. This key is one of the largest and doesn’t seem much like an island from the highway. Mostly it seems like a business district. We stopped for a travel break at a Waffle House. The coffee is very good, and if it is lunch time, I highly recommend the “scattered and smothered”. On the road again we soon crossed the first of 42 bridges connecting the Florida Keys on Highway 1 between Key Largo and Key West. We both were stunned to see the color of the water. It is shallow and calm and a startling shade of aqua/turquoise. Osprey commonly build nests on top of tall poles stuck out in the water. We have often referred to them as bird-on-a-stick. The brown pelican is ubiquitous in the keys. We saw them in the air, on the water and on the bridges. They perched on the rails of the narrow highway bridges despite heavy traffic. Some of the abandoned bridge sections appeared to be rookeries, lots of birds and lots of bird poop. Homes and fishing camps dot the islands. Some are quite rustic, others quite sophisticated. Marathon is the most “normal” island, meaning it has gas stations that are recognizable and a McDonalds and supermarkets. There were more bridges and smaller islands in the Lower Keys. If you came here on a long vacation, you would have to like boating, fishing, or watching the water. Of course reading, napping and watching the water are good alternatives. There aren’t many tourist attractions, which is not such a bad thing. Mile markers are important locaters where driveways are hidden from view by shrubs and mangroves. We did see a few beach access points, but they don’t have a lot of advance warning, so know your mile marker. Another driveway locater is the manatee or dolphin mailboxes. Made of molded concrete these whimsical statues added a comical touch to our drive.

Ollie’s is a seafood restaurant on Islamorada Key that is worth the stop. The staff were friendly and there was a sense of family. I had two huge crab cakes that were delicious. You can arrive by boat or car. You also can have a view of the highway and the waterway from the same table. Another rest stop on this island, is at a well advertised (think Wall Drug) place called Key Lime Products. It was a fun gift shop stocked with all things Key Lime. I bought a tin of Key Lime coolers. They are small cookies with powdered sugar coating, lime flavor and they melt in your mouth.

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