Originally my husband and I were planning a trip to the Finger Lakes, NY for a few days after July 4th, but after our most recent trip to Key West back in March our “Keys Disease” was setting in pretty good. Ever since we returned, we would check out webcams from the Smokin’ Tuna, Willie T’s, Schooner Wharf, etc. on weekends just to listen to some good music and feel the vibe of Key West again. I also purchased The Best of Key West, Vol. 1 on iTunes to hear the likes of Caffeine Carl, Zack Seemiller and Nick Norman. Yup we had it bad!
So after contemplating what to do, we decided to change our plans and head back down to Key West. I was able to use United miles to book our flights and reserve 5 nights at our favorite place the Gardens Hotel.
This would now make it our 12th time back to Key West. Ever since we started coming down back in 2006 we would always stay at the Gardens and request the same room. Luckily every time they do honor our request which makes it extra special returning there. You can check out my review of the Gardens here: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g34345-d227346-Reviews-The_Gardens_Hotel-Key_West_Florida_Keys_Florida.html
Day One – July 5th – Off to a Good Start and So Glad to be Back
Back in March, I wound up hitting the alarm ‘off’ instead of snooze and wound up missing our flight – and it turned into getting into Key West around 6pm instead of 11:30am. I was determined NOT to make that same mistake this time. It was a bit challenging since the day before was Independence Day and we were hanging out with friends, but I made sure to take it easy and be in bed no later then 10pm since we had to get up at 3am (our flight was at 6am). 3am came quickly and I was able to get up on time and we were off to the airport. The car service made good time and we only had carryons so the check in process was easy and quick.
Soon we were on our way to Orlando where our connection was. We landed on time and we had about an hour and a 1/2 layover. I noticed when we landed our flight via Silver Airways was delayed. (Oh no here we go again) I started having flashbacks of our March trip where we wound up sitting in the Ft. Lauderdale airport for over 4 hours. We walked over to the gate and the agent behind the counter announced that the flight crew came into Key West much later then expected the night before so they had to be sure they had the required amount of rest before flying back to Orlando (which made sense). So our flight was delayed only about an hour and he reassured us it was on its way from Key West.
While we were waiting my husband realized he forgot his Kindle on the plane which he uses all the time to read (especially if we were planning on relaxing at the Gardens pool). We figured we would replace it when we get back home and try to find a book store to get something to read. About a 1/2 hour passed and I see an agent from United carrying a Kindle. She was waving it in the air asking if anyone lost it. I couldn’t believe it! I guess they saw how it was left on my husband’s seat and they checked to see who was sitting there and saw we were connecting to Key West. I never thought that would happen. Needless to say my husband was quite happy and relieved!
Finally Silver Airways announced that they were ready to board. We were supposed to leave at 10:00am and it was close to 11:00am. It wasn’t too bad considering what happened last time. This was the first time we had a connection in Orlando and the flight was about an hour to Key West. We landed just past noon and were excited to be back in Key West. Since we had carryon, again no waiting, we grabbed our luggage, flagged down the first taxi we saw and we were on our way.
We checked in to the Gardens and we were able to drop off our luggage in our room. We thought about freshening up, but figured we would be back in a few hours to see our friend Billy who bartends at the Gardens on Sundays.
It was about 1:30 in the afternoon and we still had a good rest of the day left. Our traditional first stop is Willie T’s to grab a margarita. I don’t think they are really good margaritas but that first one in Key West does taste good.
My husband and I talked about how we wanted to try and hit new places that we had never been before this trip. The one place (believe or not) we had never been to was Irish Kevin’s. I think the main reason is when we usually go to Key West its in the spring and after spending a winter in NJ always indoors, I usually want to sit outside in Key West. After we finished our two margaritas we walked down to Irish Kevin’s.It didn’t take long to realize why so many people say to stop in.It was definitely entertaining.
The next stop has become our favorite place to see music is the Smokin’ Tuna. It was before 5pm so no one was playing. We figured that we would stop in and see who was playing that evening. http://www.smokintunasaloon.com
It was getting to be about that time that Billy was bartending at the Gardens and we wanted to freshen up. After our round we walked back to the Gardens.
Not before long we saw Billy at the bar. It was great to see him. I actually did some design work for his fishing charter business so as a thank you he wanted to take us out on a the Seaplane to the Dry Tortugas. It’s still a work in progress, but you can check it out the temporary site here: http://billyrentzcharters.weebly.com
We were scheduled to take the first flight out that Tuesday so we talked about what time we would meet, etc.
At this point we were pretty hungry and wanted to go some place nearby to eat. I gave Deuce’s Of the Hook a call to see what their catch of the day was. I was so glad I did because it was indeed our favorite – hogfish! I was able to get my husband and I a seat at the bar for 6:30. Perfect! We said our good-byes to Billy and got ready for dinner.
I love the fact that Deuce’s is so close to the Gardens.
The food is prepared very well and the service is very attentive. For appetizers, I had the mahi mahi ceviche and my husband had the fresh grilled shrimp with a mango salsa. Surprisingly, my husband and I both ordered the hogfish special. Everything was delicious. http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g34345-d5565929-Reviews-Deuce_s_Off_the_Hook_Grill-Key_West_Florida_Keys_Florida.html
It was still light out and I was too full to just go back to our room. I realized we had not stopped at Kelly’s yet for the key lime margarita.
I know we were past happy hour but I was craving one. Plus I thought we could walk off our dinner at the same time. We walked down Duval to Kelly’s for a margarita. It was quite tasty. It was also completely empty. We noticed that this time of year you can pretty much walk in anywhere and find a place to sit (unlike spring break) which I prefer.
We each had one margarita and started to feel the long day settle upon us. We thanked the bartender and decided to walk back to the Gardens. On the way back we made the mistake of stopping in Margaritaville. It was crowded due to the fact that the Women’s Soccer World Cup was on, but the one large table in the front of the place was empty. We sat down and ordered two margaritas. At this point I was pretty tired and had a nice buzz on…. as a result the waitress talked me into a margarita that was served in a blender. Yes a blender – well it wasn’t a real blender but a small replica.
In a way I am glad I did get it because the margarita was awful (especially after the one at Kelly’s – all sour mix) but at least I had a souvenir to bring back home. Once we heard that the USA won we headed on back to the Gardens.
After a long day, we called it a night.
Day Two – July 6th – First Full Day in Key West
I think we were asleep by 10pm the night before so we woke up around 7:30am (even though I heard the roosters at around 5:30).
Keeping with tradition, we wanted to go to Blue Heaven for breakfast. We usually try and get there by 8:00am so we don’t have to wait to be seated. Well when we got there it was empty.
Maybe several tables or so had people, but again it was quite different then high season.
We sat down and treated ourselves to a mimosa and screwdriver.
For breakfast I had the omelet special filled with Key West pink shrimp and my husband had the eggs benedict with sausage.
We walked back to the Gardens to freshen up and grab a few things before heading out for the day.
We also realized that they finally completed the construction of the Firehouse Parking area across the street and it came out nice. We walked along Duval and did some shopping and sightseeing.
We walked down to Peppers to do our usual tasting. We then placed our order to be shipped back home. (funny when we got home, sure enough the box was waiting for us on our front porch)
After sampling the hot sauces it was time to have something cold to drink.
We walked down to the Schooner Wharf for a few painkillers. I thought to myself how if I was at work at that point I would be stuck in a meeting. This was a lot better!
I wanted to get our friends a couple of things from the Half Shell, because when they visited Key West a few years back they really liked the place. After our drinks we walked down to the Half Shell. There were tv’s on and we were watching the World Cup and the Nascar Sprint Cup race highlights (which were crazy). And then the wonderful news about the NY Giants… really JPP???
I purchased a few things for our friends and for ourselves before heading out to the next.
The temperature was getting a bit hot so we figured we would head to the water to catch a breeze.
We remember this bartender at the Galleon’s Sunset Tiki Bar from March named David.
He was a character and wanted to see if he was still working. Sure enough when we walked in you can recognize his voice immediately.
They were doing a raffle for all of the timeshare people there, but we were able to grab a couple of seats. We chatted with David for a bit.
His stories just make you crack up.
Keeping to the water theme, we picked the Sunset Pier to be our next stop.
We also wanted to say hello to Al. When we got there we realized he wasn’t working.
All well – we had time to have a cold beer before moving on to the next.
Back in March I put up a dollar in Captain Tony’s and wanted to see if it was there.
We left Sunset Pier and made our way to Captain Tony’s.
Before we stopped there, we made a quick detour for a mojito at El Meson De Pepe.
There we talked to the bartender for a little bit even though he kept wanting to talk about one of his favorite movies… Corina, Corina? Very pleasant gentleman however.
I realized that we were beginning to go back to our usual places. All well.
Some places you just have to go back to!
We popped in Captain Tony’s to do a dollar check and it was still there! And since we were there … yup grabbed a cold one.
A young musician named Gabriel Wright was playing so we listened to him for a bit.
I requested Hard Sun by Eddie Vedder, he didn’t know all the words but I give him props for trying!
We were getting hungry so we made our way back towards the Gardens, but not before stopping by Rick’s.
Made a few friends before we were on our way again.
Before we got to the Gardens, we made a quick stop at DJ’s clam shack for a bite to eat.
Once we freshened up we went back out to 2 Cents for some dinner.
We ordered the jalapeños wrapped in bacon and their fried calamari.
The food has been consistently good the past few times we have stopped in.
Since we had to be up early the next day for the Seaplane to the Dry Tortugas, we figured that we would call it an early night, but not before having a glass of wine at the Gardens d’vine Wine Gallery.
Day Three – July 7th – Seaplane to the Dry Tortugas
Our flight to the Dry Tortugas was at 8am and we had to be there at 7:30am. It wasn’t really hard for us to wake up early because we were both really excited. We always wanted to go to the Dry Tortugas, but the 3+ hour ferry each way really was a deterrent for us. We grabbed two cups of coffee and waited for Billy and his friend Bryan to pick us up.
The Key West Seaplane Adventures operates right out of the airport so it is easy to find.Before we got on our plane, the staff would go over everything and give us a cooler with things to drink and if we needed snorkel gear. Luckily Billy and Bryan brought some snacks and drinks to tide us over.
As we neared the plane, the pilot mentioned that anyone can sit in the copilot seat. Since I was leading the way I immediately jumped at the chance to sit up front. The plane probably held around 10 people or so.
Before take off, the pilot mentioned that the flight would take about 35 minutes and we would be passing over other keys, shipwrecks, etc.
When we took off we were told to put on the supplied headphones so that we could listen to him speak, as well as the prerecorded taping of the tour.
We didn’t travel too high up in the sky, like the planes we take to get to Key West, so there was a great overhead view of Key West. The flight was just simply amazing. In a way I wished it was longer then 35 minutes. They also play music as well that you can listen to which makes the experience even more enjoyable.
As we neared Dry Tortugas you could just see it appear right in the middle of the Gulf. It was a sight to see. The plane lowered towards the water to land. I was a bit apprehensive but you could not even feel the plane land on the water.
Once we got to shore, we all got off the plane. The pilot explained where the restrooms/changing rooms were, the beach for snorkeling and also to be sure to take some time to walk around Fort Jefferson. We only had a little over 2 hours so we didn’t want to spend too much time walking around the fort, but the views from above were beautiful.
The advantage of taking the 8am tour was that we were practically the only ones on the island, besides a few campers.
We made our way to this beautiful beach. I immediately went in the water to snorkel. Unfortunately the rental equipment I had, had a leak in it. I made the best of it – plus it was so shallow that I could just stand up if need be to get the water out. The water was warm and you could see a nice variety of fish closer to the wall of the fort.
Our friend Billy stayed out longer and he wound up spotting a manatee. I was so jealous!! I always wanted to see one.
In a way it was good that my husband and I came out sooner then later, because when Yankee Freedom Ferry approached the Dry Tortugas, there was a surge of water that came up on the beach. If we weren’t there, all of our stuff (phones, cameras, shoes) would have been submerged in the water. The pilot did warn us about that, but we totally forgot about it.
The couple of hours that we spent on the Dry Tortugas went by so fast. There was another couple that were on the plane that had the full day. I can now see why. It is expensive but if I could do it again I would do the full day.
We had to be back by the plane a little after 11am for the flight back. We all met up with the pilot and loaded back onto the plane. I offered up the copilot seat but there were no takers. Plus the pilot mentioned to sit on the same side of the plane on the way back so that you can see the things you missed on the way there. I had no problem with that and back in the copilot seat I went. The takeoff was awesome since the pilot had to bank the plane towards one side.
On the way back I could actually see turtles down below. The flight back was just as enjoyable as the flight there. I think the flight was the best part of the entire trip. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who is in Key West. It is pricey, but if you can, it is definitely worth it! Here is video of us landing back into Key West:
After we got off the plane, Billy and Bryan dropped us off. We thanked them again for taking us out on the tour and told Billy that we would be in touch about going out on his fishing boat.
We got back to the Gardens and freshened up. Did we really just go to the Dry Tortugas? It was just 1pm and it felt like we never left. I just kept looking at photos I took on my phone and my camera just to be sure.
My review of the Seaplane Tour: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g34345-d1821848-Reviews-Key_West_Seaplane_Adventures-Key_West_Florida_Keys_Florida.html
Since we really didn’t eat much while at the Dry Tortugas we were both quite hungry. We just started walking Duval and then I thought that why don’t we go back to Kelly’s?I love the atmosphere there and I know they have decent food. We walked into Kelly’s and again it was pretty quiet. We were the only ones at the bar. It was so nice not to have to wait for a seat and/or table.
We both ordered mahi mahi. I had the tacos while my husband had the po’ boy – and to wash it down a cold key lime margarita. (we realized that when they make the margaritas they add the liquor KeKe juice – hmmm something we may have to try at home)
The lunch was very good and just what we needed to refuel ourselves. Feeling back to normal, we walked towards Sunset Pier. This time Al was working so we made sure we said hello.
It was pretty hot so after our drinks, we walked towards Hogsbreath to see who was playing. It wasn’t anyone that we recognized but we had a beer before heading back to the Smokin’ Tuna. However, on our way we had to stop by and see this guy again at Rick’s.
I remembered that the Smokin’ Tuna has entertainment usually starting around 5/5:30pm and it was around that time. We left Rick’s and went to the Tuna. And again, empty – which it was still so odd to see. We did visit Key West last July as well, but it was for only 2 nights so we didn’t have much time to walk around.
There was some new guy playing there named Kevin So. We figured we were there already so lets give him a try. When he began playing we were quite impressed. He had a really good voice. After a while he took his break and we wound up talking to him. He was from Nashville and it was his first time in Key West. We told him that normally the place has more people, but this time of year its really quiet – especially during the week.
We talked for a bit and he even had us meet his dog Monk. It was time for us to head out, but we told him we would catch him again the next day.
We walked down towards the Gardens and my husband mentioned that he wanted to check out the Little Room Jazz Club. Its not to far from the Gardens so I didn’t mind. When we walked in it was pretty crowded and they had a decent jazz band playing.
After a couple of songs and sangria I was done – time for bed!
We made it back to our room and it was lights out!!
Day Four – July 8th – Willie T’s, Sunset at Mallory Square & Virgilio’s
We woke up a little later this morning since we didn’t have anything planned. I was feeling a little rough and in need of a good breakfast. I remembered last time we had a tasty breakfast at Croissants de France. We grabbed coffee to go at the Gardens and made our way to Croissants de France. We sat down towards the back and ordered more coffee. It was much needed this morning. The coffee is really good and hot there too.For breakfast I had the eggs benedict with smoked salmon (my favorite) while my husband had the americanos which was an open faced butter croissant topped with three scrambled eggs.
As we were enjoying our breakfast we noticed that the table next to us had a rooster and chicken begging for food.They would just stare at you and wait. And then the rooster would peck at the lady’s backside if she ignored him….it was hilarious. Once they left, the pair were onto us. Luckily I had part of my brioche roll left that I could feed them. I know there are roosters, chickens all over Key West (and especially at Blue Heaven) but I have never seen them beg like that before. The rooster would just stare at you – like a dog!
We were still groggy and wanted to relax. Billy was available to take us out on his boat, but I just couldn’t do it. My stomach was feeling a bit rough and didn’t want to chance it out on the water. We wound up just relaxing at the Gardens pool for a bit. We were on the go for the past few days so it was nice to sit back for a while.
I checked my phone to see this facebook site I just recently learned about to tell you who’s playing wear that day in Key West called “Who and Where in Key West”. I saw that this one musician Zack Seemiller was playing later on at Willie T’s and wanted to be sure to stop on by to hear a few songs. https://www.facebook.com/whoandwherekw?fref=ts
A few hours passed and it was time to freshen up.
Being in Key West you tend to drink a fair share of different drinks and at this point of the trip, it was getting a bit difficult to figure out what we wanted to drink.Then we realized that the sangria at the Little Room Jazz Club are decent and being they have happy hour from 12pm – 8pm, two glasses of sangria for $8 is not a bad deal.
We sat down inside for a few minutes just to get out of the heat. We talked to the bartender (David I think) and he thought we were actually locals (I wish). I guess we have that vibe from time to time – but no we told him we have been coming down for years and are from NJ. He also mentioned to us about a place down the street called Martin’s. He said that they have this great happy hour from 4-6pm daily where martini’s are 1/2 price and all appetizers are 1/2 price. And that its a place where a lot of the locals go and its more or less a tapas type of a place. I am not a big martini fan, but we figured its a place we could perhaps try. Sometimes the best places are where the locals recommend.
We moved back outside for a little bit to get some air, plus its a great spot to people watch. We grabbed two to-go cups for our sangria and it was time to head to Willie T’s. As we walked down Duval, a few tourists stopped us and asked us if we were drinking alcohol in the streets (I assume first timers in Key West). We told them if you have a to-go cup you should be good to go.
We made it down to Willie T’s and sat down to hear Zack play. I didn’t realize when he plays by himself he is quite the entertainer. I swear I don’t think we stopped laughing the entire time we were there. I was also happy to hear his new song that I am quite a fan of called “You’re Harmony” which is written about his daughter.
Instead of stopping by for a few songs, we wound up staying for his entire set! Time just flew by. If you are ever walking by Willie T’s and he’s playing, be sure to stop on in.
He then mentioned that he was playing later on at Virgilio’s with Caffeine Carl. My husband is a big fan of Caffeine Carl so we thought perfect! We told him we would check them out later but not before I could get a photo with the “Z” man:
We also wanted to check out the sunset at Mallory Square, but at this time of year it doesn’t set until 8:20pm. We had time to kill so we went back to Irish Kevin’s before grabbing a bite to eat at Smokin’ Tuna. Irish Kevin himself was playing and he was having a fun time busting on a young guy (named Jon Snow – kept referencing Game of Thrones- LOL) during his bachelor party celebration.
We were both getting pretty hungry so we made our way down to Smokin’ Tuna. Kevin So was playing again so we listened to him for a bit. We ordered a couple of appetizers before heading down towards Mallory Square. Funny along the way we saw someone familiar riding on their motorcycle.
When we got to Mallory Square we were surprised how crowded it was. I guess it doesn’t matter what time of year – Mallory Square does indeed bring in locals and tourists a like. We walked down to see if Jimmy was working the cart, but unfortunately he was off. We still ordered a couple of green things to enjoy during the sunset.
During this time of year the sun sets behind Sunset Key. It was still a beautiful sunset, but I was a bit disappointed missing the sun dropping down into the water.
It was just after 8:30pm and Caffeine Carl and Zack were not playing until 9:30 at Virgilio’s so we walked back down to Kelly’s. Kelly’s was quiet enough to find two empty seats at the bar. We ordered a round of drinks before walking down to Virgilio’s.
We had never been to Virgilio’s before so this helped knock off another place we had never been to.
We walked down the side street and noticed that the door was open with people walking in and out. We figured that this was considered the “back lounge” where the music was being played. Sure enough it was.
It was a cute little area – a bit dark with tables and chairs, a back bar and a stage area for the entertainment. Caffeine Carl and Zack started to play and we just sat back and enjoyed the music. It wound up being quite a festive night since Caffeine Carl was celebrating his 30 year class reunion. The music was great and we even managed to dance to a number! It was by far the latest we had stayed up all trip. We had a great time before making back to the Gardens.
Day Five – July 9th – Our Last Full Day
Since it was our last full day in Key West I wanted to go back to Blue Heaven for breakfast. We woke up a little later and didn’t make it to Blue Heaven until after 9am. It was a little more crowded then the previous day, but since it was still slow season we were seated right away. I decided to splurge and order the lobster eggs benedict. The lobster portion was very generous but I felt the lobster may have been a little over cooked and/or maybe previously frozen since it was a little tough.
When we finished breakfast we were still feeling the affects of the day/night before so we went back to the Gardens to lounge by the pool. At this point neither of us could think of drinking anything. After spending several days drinking in Key West – it definitely catches up with you!
A few hours passed and we figured we should motivate and freshen up for our last afternoon/evening in Key West. Plus we didn’t want to stay up too late since we had an early flight the next morning (7:15am) back home.
The day before we started at the Little Room Jazz Club with sangrias and they tasted pretty good, so we made the decision to go back. This time we stayed outside since the bar area was a bit crowded. We enjoyed watching the people and cars go by for a bit.
Then we walked down to see Al for one last time at the Sunset Pier. He wished us well and told him we would be back next year.
I checked the music schedule on my phone and saw that Zack was playing again at Willie T’s. So we figured we would stop by again since we had so much fun the day before.
We said hello to Zack and found a couple of seats and sat back down and enjoyed the entertainment.Again we wound up staying until his set was over!! This time he also did a cover of one of my favorite Jimmy Buffett’s songs “Tin Cup Chalice”.
Then Zack took a break while a lady came up to talk about how Willie T’s took down the dollars off the wall to donate a check to the Wounded Warriors Project. I thought that it was really cool that they did that. I think it was around $7K!
When Zack’s set was done we made sure we got another photo w/ Zack before giving Martin’s a try…
It was getting close to 6pm, but we managed to sit down and get our order in before it was over.
We wound up ordering appetizers of escargot, baked brie, cheese platter, tuna and scallops wrapped in shrimp. It was delicious. We each had a special martini off the menu. I wasn’t too crazy about mine (but again I am not a big martini fan). When we got the bill we were shocked that it was only around $40! This was definitely a HUGE find and we were so glad that the bartender at the Little Room Jazz Club told us about it! My review here: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g34345-d779473-Reviews-Martin_s-Key_West_Florida_Keys_Florida.html
Being it was our last evening we wanted to spend it at our favorite place – the Smokin’ Tuna. We walked back down Duval and caught the end of Kevin So’s act. He recognized us and sat with us for a few. We wished him luck and how maybe some day we’ll visit Nashville and check him out.
Soon it was time for Caffeine Carl & Friends (w/ Zack) to play. We told ourselves not to stay out too late since we had to be up early the next morning.We didn’t leave before hearing Zack’s “You’re Harmony” once more. Just love the song! Anyway so after listening to a couple more songs we had to pull ourselves away and “be responsible” and head back to the Gardens.
We said our goodbyes to Carl and Zack and made the walk back to the Gardens. We tried to take in the last sights of the Gardens before departing for the night.
Day Six – July 10th – Departure Day
I never sleep good the night before we have to leave. I think we both kept waking up every hour. After 3am I was wide awake. We had our alarms set for 5:30am and woke up without any problems. We were definitely feeling a bit sluggish but knew we had to get going.
We had the Gardens call a taxi the night before so the taxi picked us up at 6:15am. We checked in at the Silver Airways counter and thankfully our 7:15am flight was on time.
The connection was in Ft. Lauderdale this time so the flight time was about 45 min. We landed in Ft. Lauderdale and had about an hour and 1/2 layover which wasn’t too bad. Soon it was time to board our United flight back to Newark airport. Surprisingly we landed early and we were back home before 2pm.
And now I am back in NJ (and at least it is summer, but its going by too fast…) just trying to figure out when we can return. Maybe March? Most likely with the timing of the Easter holiday it won’t be until April. Sniff….
I guess we’ll just have to settle on watching the webcams again to tide us over for now.
Key West may not be considered a “beach” destination, but there is plenty to do, great people to meet and awesome music to experience.
Thanks for reading my blog… until next time!
2 thoughts on “Back For Seconds – Key West”
Awesome guys! Can’t wait to go back. Xoxo..mmmmmmm…key lime margaritas
We re-read your blog many times to get psyched up for our upcoming visits to Key West…….it is an inspiration. We’ve loved our stays at the Gardens and trips with Billy as well. Can’t go until first of May this year and are going to try The Mermaid and the Alligator. Hope you have a great trip this Spring and will be looking forward to your update.