Escaping back to Key West
Even though it was our ninth time heading back to Key West, after the long cold and snowy winter we had in NJ, we were extremely excited to return. We had a 6:07am flight out of Newark so we had to be up at 3:00am. It was not a problem because we were heading back to one of our favorite places – Key West. Locals joke about once you visit Key West, you will catch the “Keys Disease”. After nine times… I guess you can say we have it! Our flight from Newark to Tampa was delayed about a half hour because we had to wait for the crew to get to our gate. We weren’t that worried since we had a two and a half hour layover in Tampa. Once the crew finally arrived at the gate, we boarded the plane and we were on our way. We actually only wound up ten minutes later when we landed in Tampa. After sitting in the airport for that long we were very eager to get on the plane to Key West. We went to the lower level of the terminal to Gate A1 (kind of ironic) and waited to board. The flight was operated by a newer airline called Silver Airways instead of Gulfstream which we used to fly. The plane was small but it was nice to see that there was a lavatory on board if need be. The flight from Tampa to Key West took about an hour and ten minutes. It felt like we were never going to get there, but I finally heard the flight attendant tell us to get ready for landing. My sister and her boyfriend were already in Key West so it was nice to know we had friendly faces waiting for us. Unfortunately we landed when two other planes arrived so we had to wait a few minutes for our luggage. Once we got our luggage, my sister and her boyfriend drove us to the Gardens Hotel. http://www.gardenshotel.com We couldn’t get over how warm and sunny the weather was. After a long winter of being surrounded by gray mounds of snow that seemed to last all season long, it was a beautiful sight to see. Check-in was easy and quick, but our room wasn’t ready yet. Luckily we already changed into our warm weather clothes in Tampa so we left our luggage at the Gardens and headed out to our traditional first stop – Willie T’s. The margaritas aren’t the greatest, but you can’t beat the price and the view of Duval to watch people go by as well as the infamous Conch Train. My sister and her boyfriend met us after a quick drink and we were headed to another favorite – Kelly’s. It was before happy hour so the bar area was nice and quiet. I noticed that the Gardens left a message letting us know our room was ready so we decided to make our way back. On the way back my husband and I wanted to show them Smokin’ Tuna Saloon so we made a detour for one more drink. The bartender appeared to have had “a few” so getting our picture taken was a bit of an issue, but eventually he did take it. Not a bad one either. Once we made it back to the Gardens we all agreed to freshen up and meet back at the Gardens and decide what our next move was. We checked in to our Garden View room and it just felt like we were back in “our” room. It looked just the same as it always did – We were all freshened up and met up at the bar at the Gardens. I mentioned that we should probably head out towards the Bight area since we could grab something to eat and then head over to the Galleon to watch the sunset. By the time we got to the Bight area we were all quite hungry. We start walking by each and every restaurant, Alonzo’s, Conch Republic Seafood, etc. and noticed every place was packed. Then I realized it was happy hour. We eventually made it to Turtle Kraal and walked to the upper deck – with great timing. As we stood by the ‘wait to be seated’ sign a table was getting ready to leave. It was perfect! We ordered several appetizers to share – from ribs, to Key West pinks, to wings, and my favorite – the Hogfish ceviche. I am not sure if it was because we were all starving, but everything tasted really good. The sun was starting to get lower in the sky and it was time to make our way to the Galleon. http://www.galleonresort.com/tiki-bar-deli.htm I read online that the Tiki Bar recently went under a major renovation so I wanted to see what they did. Apparently I wasn’t the only one. When we got there it was packed. The bar area was definitely larger and more accommodating. We grabbed a few seats away from the bar and just made the sunset. It was a beautiful ending to a long day. The day was finally taking a toll on us and we were exhausted. Once the sun went down, we walked back towards the Gardens. We made one stop at Captain Tony’s along the way so I could put my business card up. (Be careful where you leave it – I did have someone actually call me last year from the bar while at work… it was definitely the most random call I have every received at work….) We agreed to meet at Blue Heaven for breakfast the next morning around 8:30. (Usually if you make it to Blue Heaven before 9am you don’t have to wait) We said good night and went back to the Gardens. (My sister and her boyfriend were staying at the Angelina Guest House.) We got back to our room and fell asleep within minutes!
We woke up to a beautiful day and were pretty hungry. I guess the appetizers from the night before really didn’t fill us too well. I was feeling a bit slow so I took some advil with a large glass of water. We walked down to Angela St. to Petronia to Blue Heaven. http://www.blueheavenkw.com My sister wasn’t there yet so we decided to just grab a table. Blue Heaven will not let you sit at a table if you’re entire party isn’t there. I gave her a call and she said to just have breakfast and we’ll catch up later. Not a problem. We sat down with no wait at all. I ordered a veggie omelet filled with cheese, spinach, tomatoes and avocado. It was huge but really good. I also had some hollandaise to put on top. Highly recommend this combination. After the breakfast I finally started feeling like myself again. We were both quite full and wanted to walk it off. We headed back onto Duval to do some shopping. We were a little early so not all of the retail shops were open yet. We did notice however, some bars open before the shops do – gotta love Key West! My husband and I were on a mission to get ourselves some hats. We had hats from last year, but after our last vacation, they got crushed in our luggage (well mine did). After walking in and out of many stores we each were able to find some. We also wanted to head towards Peppers to get some hot sauce to bring back home. I wasn’t up for it, but my husband tasted several hot sauces. We wound up with quite a few bottles to bring back. I was a bit concerned to put them in our luggage for the way home. Peppers suggested to have the shipped back home for us. Perfect! http://www.peppersofkeywest.com This way I didn’t have to worry about them breaking, and/or walking around Key West with all these bottles. The morning pasted by and we wound up near the Ocean Key Resort. We hadn’t been to the sunset pier yet so we walked to the pier. http://www.oceankey.com/key-west-sunset-pier.aspx They were just opening the bar and we thought it was a perfect spot to have our first drink of the day. I gave a call to see where my sister was and she was headed to Sloppy Joe’s for some lunch. We decided that we would meet up afterwards. It was nice just to sit at the pier and enjoy the colors of the water. It was getting a bit hot so we got up and walked back towards Duval. We stopped in the Hog’s Breath store before during our walking tour of Key West so we headed back there for a beer. http://www.hogsbreath.com/keywest/ I contacted my sister and we would meet up there. While we were waiting we met this great dog and his owner. Its great to go into bars that has this – true Key West! We all met up and had a couple of beers. We didn’t want to get too crazy since I had made reservations for Latitudes later that evening. I made the reservations for 5:45 so we had to be at the Westin ferry by 5:30. I also had contacted Captain Billy (also the bartender at the Gardens Hotel) before we arrived to set up a fishing trip for the next day. I knew he was bartending that afternoon and wanted to touch base with him to finalize everything. We walked back to the Gardens and sure enough there was Billy! (We started going out fishing with him two years ago and try and make a point to do so when we are in Key West) It was great to see him. We introduced him to my sister and her boyfriend who were also joining us on the trip. He said he found someone to cover his shift for the next day so we were all set – yey! We caught up about our year and he talked about how Kate (the owner of the Gardens) was expanding the hotel. He showed us where they were doing construction across the way. It should be beautiful once complete. It will have rooms that have full kitchens and more. It was then time to freshen up for dinner and make our way towards Mallory Square. We had enough time to catch Mr. Mojito (aka Jimmy) for a couple of his delicious mojitos. We ventured towards the ferry and timed it perfectly. Everyone was already online and we walked right on. The ride was about 10 minutes or so and the sun was slowly setting. I was hoping to catch the sunset while at dinner. Once we arrived we were seated at lovely table right in the center. The place always makes you feel like you are miles away on some caribbean island. For the first course my husband had the carpaccio of beef and I had the pork belly. For entrees we had grouper, yellowtail snapper, beef tenderloin, and chicken. Everyone loved their meals. We had time after we ate to walk around a little and see the beach at Sunset Key. The sand wasn’t too soft, but the view was beautiful. http://www.westinsunsetkeycottages.com/latitudes-key-west
It was time to head back on the ferry and back to Key West. On the way back we stopped at Rick’s. My husband wanted a pickle back shot and my sister wanted to try one. So they did! We wanted to stop by the Green Parrot for one more, but as we walked by it was packed. I guess it was a good call because we were all done. We told my sister and her boyfriend we would meet back at the Gardens in the morning since Billy was going to pick us up at 9am. On the way back to the Gardens we noticed a new food truck. http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g34345-d6404596-r193800618-Yebo_Island_Grill-Key_West_Florida_Keys_Florida.html My husband was hungry so he wound up getting a burger. We noticed quite a few people ordering food so we figured it would be good. Once we got back to our room, my husband realized it probably wasn’t the best idea to order a burger because he was full after about half way through. No worries though… .within minutes of smelling the burger, the new Gardens cat came running up the stairs for some food. Without hesitation my husband obliged.
Day Three – April 3rd – Catching the BIG fish with Billy! We woke up a little earlier then normal to be sure we would have time to grab a bite to eat before heading out on the boat with Billy. http://www.billyrentz.com Since Sarabeth’s is close by we figured we would have breakfast there. As we were walking to Sarabeth’s, we noticed the air was a bit cooler and the breeze was a bit stronger. We opted to sit inside since it was a bit cool out. We were the only ones in the place so we had great service. For breakfast I had the Goldie Lox (smoked salmon, cream cheese scrample) and my husband had his favorite, the Fat and Fluffy french toast. Breakfast was delicious. We also made sure we took some dremamine too to be on the safe side. We went back to our room to grab our things and also some long sleeved shirts for the boat. The Gardens also has towels that you can use as well for such occasions, so I asked Nancy at the check in desk for a few towels (which conveniently came in a bag). My sister gave me a call asking where we were and I told her we were in our room. She said they were outside waiting for us! Oops. So we headed out to his truck. We did have to make one brief stop to grab some beer (just in case) and some snacks. Then we were off to the dock. Billy had the boat cleaned off the night before so we were ready to go. Soon we were on our way. Since the wind was a bit on the breezy side, Billy picked a spot different from last year to try some fishing. It wound up being a great spot. Within a few minutes after casting the first line, my husband caught a fish. The first fish was a porgy. Perfect! That will work for dinner – or a least a start. Then he wound up catching a beautiful red grouper. Unfortunately it wasn’t grouper season so he had to go. I opted not to fish so I could take pictures and watch everyone. The next person to catch something was my sister. It was a lot of work, but she wound up reeling in a 24 inch mutton snapper! Now dinner is served! After that catch we all relaxed since we didn’t have to catch anymore for dinner. However the fishing didn’t stop there. My husband then caught another red grouper. The fish were biting that day. My husband then felt something on his line that was quite large. He kept working the fish closer to the boat, but he could tell he was putting up a fight. Eventually he reeled him in as Billy grabbed the net. It was a HUGE barracuda! We could not believe the size of him! And the teeth! Obviously we had to throw him back but we wanted to make sure we got all our photo opps in. Everyone had their fill of fishing for the day so Billy suggested heading back to the same sandbar we went to last year. We made it to the sandbar and I wanted to go in the water. It wasn’t as warm as I thought it was going to be, but I went in just for a few minutes so I could say I went in the water. Soon it became that time to head back to the dock. When we got back, all the pelicans were waiting for Billy to clean the fish. It took a while since the one mutton snapper was such a large catch but he assured us we had enough food for dinner. On the way back Billy suggested dropping the fish off at this new restaurant right next to the back entrance to the Gardens Hotel called Off the Hook. It was so close we thought it was a perfect idea. Billy dropped us off and we thanked him for a great day on the water. He said he would be back later to finish out his shift at the Gardens so we told him we would see him later and let him know how the dinner was. My sister and her boyfriend went back to the Angelina Guest House to relax while we went back to freshen up. It was only around 2:30/3:00 so we headed back to Duval. We wanted to go some place quiet so instead of walking down towards Willie T’s, etc. we made a left towards Nine One Five. On our way down Duval, we noticed this cute little wine bar called “Vinos”. http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g34345-d2010275-Reviews-Vinos_on_Duval-Key_West_Florida_Keys_Florida.html
There was a sign outside that said $5 sangria. We thought perfect! There were only a couple of people so we were able to enjoy the sangria out on the porch. It was great place to sit back and watch the people go by. I tried to get my sister out, but she was a bit tired from reeling in that mutton snapper. No problem, we would just meet back at the Gardens around 5:30 since we told Off the Hook we would be there at 6pm. We left Vinos and wanted to try one more place. Then we spotted the Little Room Jazz Bar. https://www.facebook.com/LittleRoomJazzClub We walked in and the bar area was quite impressive. They too had sangria so we ordered a couple more. We found a table outside and relaxed for a bit. The sangria wasn’t as good as Vinos but it was cheaper since they offer two for one happy hour everyday from 12pm – 8pm. Now that’s a long happy hour! It was getting close to dinner time so we walked back towards the Gardens. We took a side street to get back to the Gardens so we could walk by the restaurant. We couldn’t believe how close it was.
We met everyone at the bar and saw that Billy came back to the bar. We made sure we would tell him how the dinner was when we got back.
We walked in and were seated towards the end of the long booth/table set up. The place was very tiny but had a great atmosphere.
We didn’t have any lunch so were very hungry. We each ordered appetizers to start, I had the red grouper ceviche, my husband had the conch fritters, my sister had the crab bisque and her boyfriend had the phyllo-type dough stuffed with feta and spinach. Our server told us that the chef would prepare the fish and serve it to us family style. We were offered two sides a piece. To make it easier I suggested we would have a side of the monteray jack grits and the string beans. When the fish platter came out we were blown away. There was so much!! And boy was it good. We all ate a lot but could not finish it all. We wound up taking the leftovers back to Billy. Before we left, I noticed that the place was open for breakfast. I thought that maybe we would give it a try before we left. We thanked the staff for a wonderful meal and walked back (very stuffed) to the Gardens. We sat down and could barely move. Billy gave us a few cocktails as we tried to digest our food. Our kittie friend also stopped by for a visit.
My sister and her boyfriend were leaving the next morning so we didn’t stay up to late. We figured we would finally meet at Blue Heaven for breakfast before they had to drive back to Miami. We said good night and went to bed. Still stuffed.
We woke up to another picture perfect day. I could tell that it was a bit warmer and the breeze was less. I felt sad that my sister was leaving but soon we would be there too in another few days. We all met up at Blue Heaven for breakfast. Again we arrived before 9am so we were didn’t have to wait. We enjoyed a good breakfast as we talked about our great fishing trip from the day before. After breakfast they headed back to their room to check out. We wished them a safe drive and flight and would see them back in NJ soon.
We also had friends coming down from Fort Myers via the ferry. So we were planning on meeting them when they arrived, around noon or so. It was a bit warm out, but again we were too full to just go back to the hotel and sit by the pool. We wound up walking down towards Mallory Square and discovered the Sculpture Garden there. It was interesting to read all the people that had their influences in Key West. We also realized where a lot of the names of the streets came from. One thing we were asked to do for friends back home was to bring a photo and hang it up for them in Captain Tony’s.
I had the photo with me so we made our way back to Captain Tony’s.
We walked in and it was pretty empty – probably because it was just around 11am. We ordered a couple of beers as we looked around for a place to hang the picture. Things were looking bleak but I saw an area right next to the fireplace that had paper removed. Perfect I thought! I grabbed the picture and brought tape with us (that we bought at Walgreens) so I was able to hang it up. I took a few pictures and sent it back to them. Hopefully it will still be there next year. It was getting close to noon so we walked back to the Gardens. We got in touch with our friends arriving from the ferry and they weren’t expected to get in until closer to one so we said we would just wait for them at the hotel. It was an easy decision too since they were staying there. We relaxed by the pool for a bit. Once they arrived we wanted to take them to a few spots. One of our stops was Kelly’s. Again it wasn’t too crowded so we had a nice table in the corner to enjoy a few margaritas. I made reservations to have dinner at Cafe Sole that night so after a few stops we made it back to the Gardens.
We got ready and headed back out to Cafe Sole. I didn’t realize its basically a 1/2 mile from the Gardens if you just stay on Southard St. We have walked to the restaurant before, but from the other side of the island so it can get tricky. If you walk from the hotel it is very easy. We sat down and we never realized the ceiling decor. Star Wars? We all had an assortment of appetizers to start, but we all ordered the hogfish for dinner. It never disappoints! We checked the entertainment schedule before and saw that Caffeine Carl was playing at the Smokin’ Tuna that night so we wanted to see him play. (We saw him last year and had a great time) On the way back to Duval and to the Smokin’ Tuna, we made a stop at Rick’s.
Luckily a group of people were leaving one of the tables out front so we sat right down.
Our next stop was Smokin’ Tuna. http://smokintunasaloon.com
The place was crazy, but we made our way to the bar. Thankfully it was a different bartender then the previous visit. We found a great spot at the bar to watch Caffeine Carl.
It was a good time. It was getting late and we were all exhausted. Back to the Gardens and to bed.
Day Five – April 5th – Last Full Day
We woke up to another day but this was by far the warmest its been. We heard from locals that we lucked out a lot by going the week we did, since the previous week was very hot and humid. They also mentioned how hot their winter season was (poor things….) For breakfast this morning my husband suggested Off the Hook. We didn’t see our friends yet so we figured they were sleeping in a bit. We walked right over and sat at the bar. They had a nice variety of items for breakfast. My husband had the eggs benedict and I had the huervos rancheros. It was by far the best breakfast we have had during our stay in Key West. http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g34345-d5565929-Reviews-Deuce_s_Off_the_Hook_Grill-Key_West_Florida_Keys_Florida.html
When we were done with breakfast we walked back to the Gardens and there they were. They decided to hang out at the Gardens for the day before they had to head back to the ferry for the 5pm departure. We were all pretty tired from the day/night before but my husband and I wanted to experience Duval St. one last time. We told them we would meet up later on. We walked around a bit and started to get a little down knowing this was our last full day in Key West. It really goes by so fast. We stopped in a few more shops to get some last minute t-shirts and such. We made our way back to Sunset Pier at the Ocean Key Resort and noticed a large portion was blocked off for a wedding. Whomever was getting married there later on that day was quite lucky. The weather was just perfect. We walked by the bar and they were just opening up. The bartender recognized us and pulled out two beers that we were drinking from our previous visit. It was a bit early but we figured why not? Well it probably wasn’t the best thing to start with. We could barely get them down. One was enough. We thanked the bartender and said we would see him next year. Then we walked down to El Pepe Mason by Mallory Square. Its been a couple of years, but we remembered having mojitos there while the sun was setting at Mallory Square. We grabbed two seats and ordered two. $18.50? I thought it was bit much for the size of the drink but they tasted a lot better then the beer did. With our heads feeling better we wanted to walk back down by the Bight. I suggested that maybe we would go to either Turtle Kraal or Dante’s. As we got closer we saw the Schooner Wharf Bar. We realized we hadn’t stopped in for one during our entire trip so we walked in and had a couple. They also had some entertainment so it was a nice to spend our last day there. As we walked back to the Gardens I noticed a lot of people surrounding a food truck. I figured after the recent airing of Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives” it must be Garbos Grill. And it sure was. I guess that show made it even harder now to get something to eat there. We weren’t really hungry so we kept walking. We made it back to the Gardens in time to have a drink with our friends before they headed back on the ferry. Soon that time came and we said our good byes. For dinner that evening, I wanted to eat somewhere close by to the Garden’s, so I decided on Santiago’s Bodega. Santiago’s Bodega is just a few blocks past Blue Heaven so it was easy to find. In between the two I saw the newer restaurant called Firefly. The menu looked good but not many people inside. I guess everyone was at Santiago’s. I made the reservations for 6pm since we had a very early flight the next morning so it was still considered happy hour. It was very busy but we were seated right away. We decided to order a pitcher of the sangria to share. Our small plate was the Charcuterie. Our next order was the bacon wrapped mushrooms which was very good. As we waited for our plate we noticed the service was slower and slower. The next plate was the pepper cracked grouper, followed by the lamb chops. We were contemplating whether or not to order another plate but our server disappeared. Finally my husband got his attention and we asked for to go cups for our sangria and the check. It was a shame because the food was really good. It was just so busy that the service just couldn’t keep up with the demand of all the tables. We walked back to the Gardens and we were very tired. We had to be up by 5am the next morning so we were in bed by 9:15!
I set my phone alarm and had the Gardens call our room at 5am to make sure we would wake up. However, we both didn’t sleep that well. With the anticipation of going home and everything it was a restless night sleep. 5am finally arrived and we got ready to leave. The Gardens arranged to have a taxi waiting for us at the airport at 5:45am. We walked out to the front and there she was. Our flight was at 6:40am but checking in at the airport at Key West is quick. We were taking the Silver Airways Airline back and connecting in Tampa again. Unfortunately being its not United leaving, we had to pay for our checked bag $25. (I have the United card so they include the bag fee). We also had to take about 6 lbs. worth of clothes and put them in our carry on bags. If not, they would have charged us another $100 for having an overnight bag. (Tip: men’s cargo shorts weigh around 3 lbs.! – so try and pack lighter weight shorts). Before we knew it we were back on the plane back to Tampa. It was strange leaving Key West before the sunrise but it was pretty to see. Our flight was uneventful and landed in Tampa without any delay. We only had an hour and a half layover in Tampa so we grabbed some breakfast before heading to the gate. After about two hours and twenty minutes we were back in “brown” Newark/NYC area. At least the sun was out, but I already missed the colors of Key West. All and all it was a great trip. We shared both new and old experiences with family and friends. Hoping we’ll be able to head back again to Key West next spring and make it 10!
Until next time…. thanks for reading :)