Florida Part III: The Keys

Our drive between the Tampa Bay area and Key West was the longest road trip we had taken since we started our adventure. Our plans were directly on schedule, which meant we had reservations to check out of our Ozona cottage on the 21st and reservations to check into Bluewater Key RV Resort on the 22nd. The drive was going to be over 7 hours so we decided to break the trek into halves and stay overnight in a Casino parking lot at the midway point in the Everglades.  Our water pump and tank sensors were all freshly repaired, or replaced, and we were finally able to “camp” somewhere self sufficiently without hooking up to any exterior utilities.

As it turns out, the repair costs to the Monaco were drastically less than we had guesstimated. The way we saw it, we had a little extra money left in our savings account after we paid Creative Coach because we were expecting to part with so much more in the repair payments. Mike’s solution was to take our good fortune and try to double it. He went to the money machine and pulled out $1,500 for us to gamble with while we spent the night in the casino parking lot. He was going to try and make something at the craps table with $1,000 to start with, and he was going to give me $500 to take to the black jack table. It was a perfect plan: drive four hours on a scenic trip through The Everglades, stay the night for free, have a nice dinner and make a fortune at the tables.

The drive was fine, the parking lot was free and had lots of security, and we didn’t lose any money. We stayed at the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida Resort &  Casino at the cross roads of Florida Highways  41 and 997. We found a wide open space in the back parking lot so we could walk the dogs and open the slides. When I went to “register” us with security inside the casino I learned there were no craps or black-jack tables, only a poker room and slot machines. Oh well, now we had “extra” money to play with in Key West! We had dinner that night in one of the nicer restaurants on the property… it was “open air” situated up on a platform looking down at one of the casino slot floors with slot machines encircling the boundaries of the restaurant. It was in a smoking section. Since smoke rises, we got to breathe anyone’s exhaust that was under or near us. Mike’s frog legs were soggy, my pasta was gummy. They did have a nice piano player contributing to the “lounge” ambiance. We really couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

We went back to our bus after dinner and continued putting all of our belongings back into their proper places. We had loaded all of our stuff from the cottage to the bus, but we had yet to put everything away.  The place was a wreck. After a good night’s rest, we got up in the morning and continued chores before hitting the road. Mike spent at least 2 hours cleaning the windshield after our rainy drive through the everglades. It was filthy with mud and bug splats.

The drive down the Keys was not what I expected. Highway 1 is basically a 100- mile two-lane highway with the average posted speed of 45 miles per hour. It seemed like we were so close to our destination for so long, but it just took us forever to get there. Of course between all the roadside restaurants, resorts, and ocean vistas there is plenty to look at as you crawl down the road. Bluewater Key Luxury RV Resort is at Mile Marker 14 so we enjoyed a great view with plenty of sites to see all on the way down.

We ended up on Sugarloaf Key just a few keys down from the Mecca of Key West. I had never been there before, so I was very excited to explore the area. I had always wanted to take a trip to Key West, and now I know the future holds many other trips back to the quirky tropical wonderland. The RV Resort itself was a private establishment and each RV pad was privately owned. This meant that each site had its own landscaping, furniture, etc. The spot we were given was #11.  One side of the resort faced open waters and our side of the park opened up to a canal. There was a one-street neighborhood on the opposite side of the tiny key so our neighbors across the canal were local residents. We had a tiki hut with lights and fans, a deck facing the water, a big wicker table and matching bar set, brick pavers, and dense landscaping that blocked our view from each of the neighbors. I could see why this place took reservation APPLICATIONS. Just because you want a reservation here doesn’t mean you are going to get one. I was very thankful that Mike had made this reservation for us even before we owned the Monaco. It had coincidentally turned out to be Memorial Day weekend, so the place was full during our stay.

Mike hooked up my hammock to support posts in the Tiki structure. We moved a television out to the bar and hooked it up to the free cable. We plugged in the iPad and used the resort’s free Wi-Fi to stream island music  from Pandora. Piper stood guard protecting us from the multitude of iguanas that roamed the area. I took frequent naps in my hammock. Mike fished off the back deck for mangrove snapper. We walked the dogs around the resort and along a biking path just outside our gate. We did swim in the resort’s pool one time. Our week in Key West flew by as we did a lot of nothing for many days in a row.

Don’t worry, we did actually leave the resort and see other parts of the area. On our second day we didn’t know what to expect from Key West. At the time, we had no idea how incredibly dog friendly and completely car unfriendly the last key really is. We left the dogs at home and went into the center of Key West with no parking plan – both of which we did not repeat again during our visit. Our plan was to go have breakfast at Blue Heaven, a restaurant that was recommended to us by our friends Amy and Blaine. Then we could cruise around and see the layout of the town. We would get a general feeling for where everything was on the way back to the bus. This way we could figure out what all kinds of things we wanted to do while we were in town. We had a great tour of the historic town center during the hunt for a place to dump our car, and finally found a parking spot for $15 around the corner from the restaurant. We had a scrumptious breakfast in an enclosed open-air patio under an enormous tree while we listened to live music and watched roosters and hens peck for leftover scraps by our feet. I ordered the Lobster Benedict and Mike had the ‘everything’ breakfast platter with the most delicious banana pancakes I’ve ever tasted. We decided it had probably been a good thing we visited this location without the dogs. Piper and the yard birds would not have made for a pleasant dining experience.

That evening we came back into town for the Sun Celebration at Mallory Square (complete with dogs and a parking plan). We roamed through the crowds and looked at the art booths that were set up around the perimeter. We watched characters in costumes meandering, sword eaters swallowing blades, musicians strumming instruments, fortune tellers giving guidance, and a black cat repeatedly jump through a flaming ring of fire. We found a spot on the water in front of The Westin and waited for the sun to set while we had some drinks and dinner. Our waitress brought the dogs bacon to eat as a treat. I told her unfortunately they couldn’t eat the bacon, but they could eat a carrot if she wanted to give them something. She was back in five minutes with a bowl of chopped carrots, so the dogs were happy too. We spent the rest of that evening watching the chartered and private boats return to their marinas at dusk, then we headed back home.

Another day we went back into town with the dogs and parked for FREE at a hidden parking lot behind the Truman Annex near Ft. Zachary Taylor. From there we walked through the fabulous neighborhoods crowded with vintage architecture, a history that incorporates presidents and hoodlums, lush gardens, wacky charisma and other tourists. We found our way to the Southernmost Point – where I heard a tour bus driver say we were closer to Cuba than we were to the nearest Wal-Mart. There was a long line of people waiting to take their picture by the official marker, so we just skipped the line and took pictures of other people we didn’t know standing by the official marker. After we checked the marker off our list of things to see, we went to eat beachside at the Southernmost Café just down the street. Although dogs were not allowed on the beach or in the restaurant, they had a small section of tables with umbrellas near the entrance where we could sit with the dogs and order TO GO plates off of the menu. It was basically self-service, but that was fine with us. Mike had tried the Mojitos at The Westin, so I tried them at this place. I don’t like rum, but I had two! After lunch we strolled down Duval Street on the way back to the car. If we had wanted to buy anything at all, we could have. We passed shops and stores that sold everything from t-shirts, to cigars, to fine art and jewelry. Every imaginable thing in between was displayed in the retail windows of the shops that lined the narrow streets . The only thing I think they had more of in Key West than shops was bars. I wanted to go into each one that we passed, but we had 14 miles to drive home so we just gawked and kept walking.

As we had discussed our plans to visit the Keys with others in the previous months, several of our friends had recommended we go to Little Palm Island while we were in the area. Little Palm Island is a private resort, but they do allow “guests” to visit their dining room with advanced reservations. High End. Lifestyles of the Rich and not necessarily Famous. We decided to make a date and scheduled reservations for Sunday Brunch with a 10:30 departure time on their ferry. Little Palm is a private island on the Atlantic side just off of Torch Key. They have two sleek teak motorboats that take their guests from the dock near the Overseas Highway Mile Marker 28 to the resort.  It was about a 20-minute boat ride. As our boat, “The Truman”, approached the island we circled around it to where the dock was located on the opposite side. There were about 20 or so private cabanas with indoor/outdoor designs and thatch roofs. Each one was set off from the next one with world class landscaping and natural foliage in-between. They each had their own fire ring and their own private mini-dock outfitted with giant teak couches and loungers under massive umbrellas. Each cabana also had a little patio area that had outdoor linen curtains surrounding the boundaries, so the guests could have extra privacy if necessary. Before we docked the boat and made our way to the restaurant area, I told Mike we were coming back here to stay for our 30th anniversary.  It would take us that long to save enough money to afford to spend more than a couple of hours in this paradise.

For brunch our white linen- covered table was located in the sand. The mimosas and bloody Mary’s were free-flowing. Most of the food offerings were available on a buffet and we could also order little mini- plates off the menu. The buffet had pastries, fruit, cheese, crackers, breads, shrimp, oysters, salmon,  carved pork roast, and dozens of fresh salads. From the menu I ordered Salmon Benedict and the Chilled Avocado Soup. Mike ordered a grilled fish and Kobe beef.  At the end of our meal they brought out a little sampler dessert platter with about 6 different choices of goodies to taste.  We were so lucky that our table sat in the shadows of a clump of palm trees, so the weather was pleasant and the view was gorgeous during our entire meal. It was a great date.  I would recommend the splurge to anyone who enjoys delicious food and romantic surroundings.

We went on a morning snorkeling trip on Memorial Day. Our Catamaran, The Marquesa, left the harbor at 9am. There were 20 passengers and 3 crew members, our captain Eric assisted by Jill and Carol. We heard the afternoon cruise was booked for 80 people, so once again we were lucky with how things played out. The ride out to the reef was about an hour. We snorkeled for about an hour and then enjoyed free beer and wine on the boat ride back into port. The wind was pretty strong and the water was fairly choppy, which made seeing fish and plants in the protected barrier reef a little tricky… but it was a great excursion.  After we got back on land we wanted to eat some lunch and realized a Carnival Cruise Ship was docked down the street.  Rather than go toward the “extra” crowds of tourists, we drove out of the city center and went to a local dive called Hogfish on Stock Island.  It was about half- way between where our car was parked in the parking lot and where our bus was located back at Bluewater Key.

It started raining that evening after we got back home and didn’t really stop until we left on Wednesday morning.  We spent our last day in the Keys getting ready for a mammoth road trip to the northeast. I went to the grocery store and got the kitchen all stocked up. Our vacation was over and the chores needed attention, but it was okay because we were all chilled out from our time in the tropics. We were so busy relaxing during our stay that we didn’t get to see and do everything on our list. They say once your feet touch the Key West Sand, you will return again and again. I think I believe the lore. I certainly plan to be back.

 

Leaving the harbor to go snorkeling.

Leaving the harbor to go snorkeling.

This is the dog walking area at our RV Resort.

This is the dog walking area at our RV Resort.

The marina where Hogfish Bar is located. We came to eat with this view after our snorkel trip.

The marina where Hogfish Bar is located. We came to eat with this view after our snorkel trip.

This was our back yard for the week. Piper was always on guard for iguana protection. One snake did crawl up on our deck also, but the dogs and I scared it back underneath.

This was our back yard for the week. Piper was always on guard for iguana protection. One snake did crawl up on our deck also, but the dogs and I scared it back underneath.

The view from our table during our brunch date to Little Palm.

The view from our table during our brunch date to Little Palm.

From the ferry landing waiting to go back to Little Torch Key. It was a spectacular Sunday.

From the ferry landing waiting to go back to Little Torch Key. It was a spectacular Sunday.

hee hee

hee hee

A view of the tables behind us during brunch. One other couple was at a table beside us, but we basically had a private dining area to ourselves.

A view of the tables behind us during brunch. One other couple was at a table beside us, but we basically had a private dining area to ourselves.

The water was a bit rough for snorkeling, but it was beautiful never-the-less.

The water was a bit rough for snorkeling, but it was beautiful never-the-less.

Fun in the sun.

Fun in the sun.

Our ferry boat ride to Little Palm Island.

Our ferry boat ride to Little Palm Island.

The canal behind our site.

The canal behind our site.

Good Night.

Good Night.

Sun Celebration Sunset

Sun Celebration Sunset

 

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